’30 Feet Off Our Right Wing’: Pilot Describes Spotting Drone That Shutdown Newark

Jan 24, 2019

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A United Airlines pilot reported that the drone from Tuesday’s Newark shutdown incident passed his aircraft’s right wing by a scant 20 or 30 feet.

As the pilot of UA Flight 2335 approached Newark Liberty International Airport Tuesday afternoon, air traffic control warned him that a drone was in his vicinity, based on another pilot’s report around 4:44pm. According to the radio exchange, the pilot could see the drone flying at their “exact same altitude” of approximately 3,500-3,600 feet, “probably 20 feet, 30 feet off our right.” The apparatus was sighted nine miles north of Newark, nearby Teterboro Airport.

The drone incident led Newark to temporarily shut down arrivals for just under an hour, which forced 43 flights to hold, nine of which had to divert to other airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Dozens of additional later flights were delayed as a result of the unscheduled hold. 

In 2017, the FAA discovered that drones can cause more aircraft damage than bird strikes. A drone may have damaged an Aeromexico Boeing 737-300 in Tijuana in December 2018. In the same month, unauthorized drone activity shut down London Gatwick for 36 hours over three days around the Christmas holiday travel season, causing 1,000 cancelled flights, costing EasyJet $19.4 million and resulting in travel disruptions for an estimated 140,000 to 200,000 passengers. London Heathrow had its own drone fiasco just a few weeks later, resulting in a shutdown of around 30 minutes. As a result, Heathrow and Gatwick will install anti-drone technology in an effort to reduce future incidents. 

Despite all this, the Federal Aviation Administration recently authorized nine companies to begin piloting drones closer to a number of airports.

Featured photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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