In an incident similar to ones which shut down the UK’s Gatwick Airport before Christmas last month and another at Heathrow in early January, Newark Liberty International Airport grounded all departing and incoming flights on Tuesday after two pilots spotted a drone.
Per the New York Times, the pilots saw the drone roughly 1,066.80m over the nearby Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, after which “takeoffs from Newark were halted and inbound planes were held in the air.” The Federal Aviation Administration initially reported sightings of two separate drones, but later stated the sightings appeared to be of the same one, according to CNN.
If you’re flying a drone near EWR right now, could you ground it and have a sandwich or something? You just shut down all arrivals.
— marcusowens (@marcusowens) January 22, 2019
In transcripts from air traffic control obtained by CBS New York, there was chatter that the drone came within “9.14m” of a flight:
“There’s something flying here, we thought it might be a drone. There is definitely something there.”
“Yes sir, it definitely looks like a drone… We missed the drone about 9.14m away from the right wing.”
CBS New York added the sighting prompted a “police helicopter search.”
According to the Times, planes resumed landing at Newark Liberty by around 5:45 PM ET. However, other flights bound to land at the airport were prevented from taking off or had to circle overheard, with Port Authority officials only saying normal operations had resumed shortly after 7:00 PM ET. The paper added that the matter is investigation:
[Port Authority officials] said they would work with the F.A.A. and federal law-enforcement agencies “as they investigate this incident.”
Teterboro Airport is patrolled by the Port Authority Police Department and falls within the jurisdiction of the Moonachie Police Department. Asked Tuesday evening about the drone sighting, an officer on duty there said the department was unaware of it.
CNN noted in a correction that the network had not “confirmed an actual sighting of a drone in the area.” But if there was indeed an unmanned aerial vehicle flying above Teterboro, 1,066.80m is quite high, to put it mildly. FAA guidelines say pilots should fly a maximum of 121.92m above the ground (or higher if it remains 121.92m above a structure).
As Popular Mechanics noted in 2016, drone manufacturing giant DJI’s firmware caps the company’s quadcopters at 457.20m. Except under specific circumstances, flying near controlled airspace or major airports is also heavily restricted.
“They shouldn’t be flying near an airport, period,” passenger Thor Kongvold told CBS New York. “They do and they get caught they’ve got to pay the consequences.”
Per Reuters, the U.S. Transportation Department this month proposed new rules allowing drone flights over populated areas and to end permit requirements for night flights, though in 2018 the U.S. Congress gave the departments of Justice and Homeland Security “new powers to disable or destroy threatening drones.”