An Alitalia jet pilot claims he saw a small unmanned aircraft flying over New York on Monday afternoon. According to CNN, the pilot was landing at JFK Airport when he saw the plane: "We saw a drone, a drone aircraft," he's quoted as saying in a broadcast picked up by LiveATC. Other pilots apparently did not see the plane, and the pilot was able to land safely. Now, the FAA tells CNN it's investigating the report. "[The pilot] saw a small, unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft while on final approach to Runway 31 Right," says a spokesperson. "The sighting was approximately four to five miles west of the airport at an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet." That puts it around the border between Brooklyn and Queens.
Without more detail, it's hard to tell whether the pilot's report is credible. It's quite possible the object wasn't actually an unmanned plane, or that it was lower than estimated. If there was an unmanned aerial vehicle at 1,500 feet, it's more likely flown by a hobbyist than a government agency, though Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said the NYPD is "looking into" cheap low-flying drones to watch protests. No matter where it's from, an unmanned plane would almost certainly be illegal at 1,500 feet over New York. Hobbyist planes are restricted to altitudes of 400 feet or lower, and the FAA is still in the preliminary test phase of drone flights in American airspace.
Public assistance needed in identifying, locating unmanned aircraft and operator over JFK yesterday 1.usa.gov/W2JC0H #JFK #drone— FBI New York (@NewYorkFBI) March 5, 2013
Update: The FBI is now looking for information about the drone as well. In a statement, the object is described as "black in color and no more than three feet wide with four propellers." It apparently came within 200 feet of the Alitalia plane, which was "roughly three miles from runway 31R when the incident occurred at an altitude of approximately 1,750 feet." Anyone with information is urged to contact the bureau.