After a series of near-misses between drones and commercial airplanes, the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday said it will test new technology to detect the remotely controlled devices and track down operators.
Drone aircraft are required to stay 5 miles from airports, but the FAA said there has been "a steep increase in reports of small unmanned aircraft in close proximity to runways."
FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker told a House aviation subcommittee the agency will evaluate detection technology developed by CACI International.
The Arlington, Virginia, defense contractor declined to describe its new system, saying only that it "accurately detects, identifies and tracks . . . aerial drones and their ground-based operators."
Pilots have sighted drones flying around many U.S. airports, including those in New York. On July 31, two inbound flights at Kennedy Airport spotted the devices -- one just 100 feet below a jetliner's right wing. In May, a flight heading to LaGuardia had to climb 200 feet to avoid a collision.
On Long Island, a flight coming in for a landing at Republic Airport in May reported a drone crossing 300 feet below the plane, the FAA said.
The potential risks drones pose were underscored on Tuesday evening in Sag Harbor. A drone shattered when it crashed onto an empty Main Street after its battery caught fire, police said. Last month, one crashed into empty stands during a tennis match at the U.S. Open. No injuries were reported in either incident.
The FAA made its latest announcement one day after it proposed a record $1.9 million fine against SkyPan International Inc. for flying drones equipped with cameras in congested airspace around New York and Chicago airports.
The Chicago company, whose photos help market commercial and residential buildings, said in response that it has an "impeccable record of protecting the public's safety, security and privacy."