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Bessent: Why was a drone flying above Kennedy Airport today?

Two TSA agents wait for passengers to go

Two TSA agents wait for passengers to go through security screening at LaGuardia Airport. (Feb. 25, 2013) Credit: AP Photo Anthony Behar

Just when one development increases confidence in air travel, another shakes that faith.

Air travelers will be allowed to board commercial planes with small knives and hockey sticks, a couple of golf clubs and similar sports equipment in tow starting April 25. TSA officials said permitting those currently banned carry-ons will allow its officers to focus on more serious security threats. Things like explosives.

But what about that drone spotted over Nassau County Monday by an Alitalia pilot as his plane approached John F. Kennedy Airport?

The Alitalia flight was arriving from Rome at 1:15 p.m. when the pilot told air traffic controllers a small drone, or maybe a model aircraft, flew within 200 feet of his plane at about 1500 feet above the ground and four miles southeast of the airport, which would put it over Long Island’s south shore.

With almost daily reports of missile firing drones remote controlled by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies taking out suspected terrorist leaders in targeted attacks around the globe, the prospect of an unmanned, unidentified flying object in the sky here is worrisome.

The Federal Aviation Administration and FBI are investigating the episode.

But while air travelers may now have drones to worry about, they apparently don’t need to worry anymore about small knives and clubs. With locked and hardened cockpit doors, officials no longer believe that lacrosse sticks or billiard cues or knifes with blades less than 2.36 inches in length and one-half inch in width that do not lock could be used to commandeer a plane.

If that means Transportation Security Administration officials appreciate the need to do less security theater (do we really need to take our shoes off?) and instead hone in on those things that actually make flying safer, it marks an important advance.

But it would do wonders for the confidence of the flying public if somebody, someday lets us in on what that UFO was and what it was doing in the sky above Long Island.