The Alitalia pilot spotted the unmanned craft, described as "a black drone", hovering just 200 feet from his jet about three miles east of the airport as he made his approach from Brooklyn.
"He was very clear as to what he saw," a source was quoted by the New York Post as saying.
The pilot told investigators the object was flying at about 1,800 feet and looked like "a black drone about a meter square, with helicopter rotors on the corners".
NY’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Federal Aviation Administration are also investigating the pilot’s claim, and so far neither they nor the FBI have been able to explain what an unidentified drone was doing in controlled airspace.
The type of drone the pilot describes witnessing.
News reports initially focused on the idea that it was either a remote-controlled model-aircraft enthusiast’s airplane, or it was "terrorists" (the reactionary go-to bogeyman). There was no room in the message for federal agency involvement, even in light of recent drone-related messages coming from the government and law enforcement.
Drones have been used on American soil previously by authorities to target suspects, and have been used to target and murder American citizens abroad.
Those at civil aviation forum Airliners.net speculated on the drone’s origins:
"I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine DHS/ATF/FBI/CBP (as a starter list of potential operators) flying a surveillance drone near JFK, or anywhere else in the US for that matter. It is a stretch to imagine someone with the skills and financial wherewithal to operate a camera-equipped drone up to 1500, would hover it on a approach pattern to JFK."
"Well now that depends on whose drone it is...The point of drones is we, the population at large... are not supposed to be cognizant of the fact they are in the air watching whatever. I have already seen (3) in class Charlie airspace in Suffolk county. This begs the question, in New York’s congested airspace...who gets the blame when a county, state or US government Drone impacts an airliner and kills."
USAToday.com: "...Flying unmanned aerial vehicles is illegal for most business purposes; however, governments and public entities such as police departments can apply for permission to operate them."
No matter whether it was a hobbiest or a federal agency piloting the drone, the maneuver was dangerous to all involved, and it also demonstrates further occurrence and acceptance of drones in the public sphere.
But there’s a bigger question here: why was there a drone flying over Brooklyn to begin with? The NYPD has said on the record that it’s "interested’ in using drones to give it crime-seeking eyes in the sky, but no official program is in place. The legal framework for domestic drone operation isn’t even solidified—though that hasn’t stopped both government and private sector operators from flying them over the US.
It can’t be stated enough: this will only become common up to the point that it’s the norm.
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