Friday, May 29, 2015

New York-bound passenger jet reports near-miss with drone

A commercial airliner narrowly missed colliding midair with a drone at 2,700 feet as it neared New York's LaGuardia Airport Friday morning, just hours after a string of incidents involving lasers pointed at planes, according to federal officials.

The pilot reportedly had to swerve upward over Brooklyn's Prospect Park in order to avoid the drone as the plane neared the airport. The incident followed several earlier instances of pilots reporting they had lasers pointed at them near New York airports.

"The flight crew of Shuttle America Flight 2708 reported climbing 200 feet to avoid an unmanned aircraft while on final approach to LaGuardia Airport at about 11 a.m. today," the Federal Aviation Administration said. "The crew ... reported that the unmanned aircraft was operating in the vicinity of Prospect Park in Brooklyn at an altitude of about 2,700 feet."

The plane later landed safely, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the case.

The frightening encounter came hours after five pilots reported being targeted by a green laser pointed at their cockpits near the city. Four planes, including another Shuttle America flight, were reportedly at approximately 8,000 feet when the lasers were pointed at them four miles northwest of Farmingdale, N.Y., Thursday night. The FAA notified the New York State Park Police about those cases.

In addition, Sun Country Airlines Flight 249 reported a green laser illuminated the aircraft when it was 14 miles southwest of JFK Airport at around 11:30 p.m. Thursday. The FAA notified the New Jersey State Police last night.

Lasers and drones are perhaps the two biggest threats faced by the airline industry, according to Phil Derner Jr., an aviation research and consulting expert who runs But while drones are typically unwittingly flown in restricted airspace, people who point lasers at planes nearly always act with criminal intent, he said.

"People use the drones for photography, and they can truly do amazing things," Derner said. "They typically don't realize that, in New York for instance, nearly the entire city is Class Bravo restricted airspace," meaning drones can't be flown above a few hundred feet.

Like bird strikes, the danger presented by drones is that they will get near a plane and be sucked into an engine, he said.

"Drones are stronger than birds and people are flying them in restricted airspace more and more," Derner said. "It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, one of these hits an aircraft." 

When laser beams hit a cockpit window, the glass acts like a prism and disperses the blinding light throughout the cockpit, he said.

"It is very, very dangerous," Derner said. "You either have to have some sort of criminal intent or be one of the stupidest people on the planet to point a laser at an aircraft."

It was not the first time in recent weeks that drones have been spotted dangerously close to planes in the vicinity of LaGuardia. On May 5, a drone was spotted near two planes as they landed at the airport. One was seen outside a window by a passenger aboard an Air Canada flight, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Less than 10 minutes later, the pilot of a United Airlines flight reported seeing the same drone in restricted airspace as he made his final approach. In both cases, the drone was flying at about 1,000 feet, according to the FAA.

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