FAA reports near drone-airplane collision

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reporting that a passenger airplane nearly collided with a drone near the Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida in March, according to USA Today.  

The FAA is in the process of conducting a series of congressionally mandated tests to determine the impact of increased drone use on commercial flights.

The agency said recently that the near-collision in Florida’s capital city was reported by the pilot of a regional flight that was being operated for US Airways, according to the report. 

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"He reported what appeared to be a small, remotely piloted aircraft at approximately 2,300 feet in the air," the FAA's Jim Williams said of the commercial jet’s pilot during a speech last week at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition in San Francisco.

Williams is the manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

The FAA has thus far been unable to identify the operator of the drone in question, according to the report. 

The flight that was impacted was Piedmont Air Flight 4650 from Charlotte, N.C., to Tallahassee. 

Williams told his audience at the drone convention that the near collision between the unmanned vehicle and the airplane could have been deadly. 

"The risk for a small (drone) to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real," Williams said. "The results could be catastrophic."

The FAA has been facing pressure to quickly approve more drone use as companies like Amazon tout the potential for faster online deliveries. 

The agency has been cracking down on rogue drone operators while it has conducted its tests. The recipients of cease and desist notices from the aviation agency in recent months have included a Minnesota beer company and the Washington Nationals baseball team. 

The agency told USA Today that it currently has the right to fine anyone who operates a drone within five miles of a commercial airport. 

"The FAA has the authority to pursue enforcement action against operators who endanger the safety of the national airspace system," the agency told the paper. "The FAA has the exclusive authority to regulate the airspace from the ground up, and a mandate to protect the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground."

Lawmakers have set a September 2015 deadline for the FAA to issue its ruling on the impact of drones on commercial flights. 

The agency has identified two of six sites it intends to use to conduct the tests.