A drone that apparently flew too close to Charlotte Douglas International Airport as a jet landed this week was likely operated by someone who simply didn’t know the rules.
As unmanned aircraft become more popular among hobbyists and small businesses, they’ve also come into more frequent contact with passenger airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration restricts people from flying drones within 5 miles of an airport.
But anyone can go online and buy one. And most of the time, the pilots aren’t aware of the federal government’s guidelines.
“A lot of people just don't even know they exist,” said Emily Speicher, of Boston-based drone flight school company DartDrones. The company is planning its first training program in Charlotte in early August. “The people flying them near the airports, they just have no idea.”
The issue was brought to the forefront this week when an American Airlines pilot landing at Charlotte Douglas International Airport this week reported seeing a drone flying uncomfortably close to the plane.
The crew of US Airways Flight 5220 saw an unmanned aircraft flying about 2,100 feet above ground a few miles northeast of the airport just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, the FAA said.
The regional jet often flies between Charlotte and Myrtle Beach, according to FlightAware.com records.
The height of the drone violates another FAA guideline, which requires them to fly below 400 feet.
The pilot reported the drone sighting to the FAA, which reported it to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, American Airlines spokeswoman Katie Cody said. Both agencies are investigating the incident.
The 5-mile restriction around airports means a large chunk of western Mecklenburg County is off-limits to recreational drone-flyers without permission.
Incidents like this one have become more common over the past two years.
The FAA said in a statement last year that commercial pilots have reported drones near their planes about 25 times per month, according to The New York Times. The agency released a list of nearly 200 drone incidents in 2014, including one in Charlotte.
On July 18, a pilot reported seeing a red-and-black drone pass 100 feet below his plane on its descent into Charlotte Douglas. The information was passed on to Rock Hill police.
FAA guidelines on flying drones
▪ Fly below 400 feet.
▪ Keep the aircraft in your sight.
▪ Remain well clear of aircraft.
▪ Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower beforehand.
▪ Don’t fly near people or stadiums.
▪ Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.
Source: Federal Aviation Administration