Washington: A US airliner nearly collided with a drone as it approached a Florida airport in March, American aviation authorities have said, highlighting the dangers posed by small unmanned aircraft to a commercial jet.
Jim Williams, the head of the FAA`s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) office, said a pilot has recently reported of "a near midair collision" with a drone near the airport in Tallahassee, Florida.
The incident took place on March 22 as a US Airways 50 seat CRJ200 jet flying from Charlotte, North Carolina to Tallahassee, Florida came very close to the drone, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said.
The pilot said that it appeared to be small, camouflaged, "remotely piloted" and about 2,300 feet up in the air at the time of the incident.
The pilot said that the drone was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it, Williams said.
"Thankfully, inspection to the airliner after landing found no damage. But this may not always be the case," he said while discussing the various potential perils during a presentation at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo.
According to the FAA, the incident took place on March 22 and involved as US Airways Flight 4650 going from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Tallahassee.
The pilot claimed to pass "an unreported and apparently remotely controlled aircraft ... Five miles northeast of the Tallahassee airport, CNN quoted the FAA as saying.
Such close calls are rare, the FAA notes.
The pilot reported that the small unmanned aircraft involved looked similar to an F-4 Phantom jet, and not like a helicopter that might hold a camera that many associate more closely with drones. Such planes have gas turbine engines and can fly higher than an average drone, according to the FAA.
Neither the drone in this case, nor its pilot, have been identified.
In its own statement, US Airways said that it was aware of this reported "incident with one of our express flights, and we are investigating," the report said.
Williams said bird strikes are dangerous enough; a drone, even a small one, getting sucked into a jetliner`s engine could be even worse.
"Imagine a metal and plastic object -- especially with (a) big lithium battery -- going into a high-speed engine," he added. "The results could be catastrophic."
All these incidents speak to "why it is incredibly important for detect-and-avoid standards (for small unmanned aircraft) to be developed and right-of-way rules to be obeyed," Williams said. He added that such standards are in the works.