Airline Pilots Report Drone Sightings On SeaTac and PDX Airport Approaches

Mar 3, 2017
Originally published on March 3, 2017 5:21 pm

The Federal Aviation Administration says reports of unsafe flying by civilian drones "have increased dramatically" over the past two years.

A review of the FAA incident database found dozens of reports from all over the Northwest. The incidents include near-misses with small private planes, a near-midair collision with a National Guard A-10 fighter based at Boise's airport and a disturbing number of cases involving passenger airliners.

Flying drones around manned aircraft and airports is dangerous and illegal. SeaTac Airport spokesman Perry Cooper said this is a difficult crime to solve.

"Whether you even get the right location is a bit of a guess,” Cooper said. “Then once you get there, usually the potential culprit is already gone."

Six recent drone sightings came from airline cockpits during landing approaches to SeaTac or Portland International. The pilots were flying Boeing 737 jets for Delta, Southwest, Alaska and American Airlines. The incident reports indicate the jet pilots did not take evasive action.

The FAA uses the term unmanned aircraft system or UAS to describe drones. The agency along with industry groups is promoting a smartphone app called B4UFLY as well as "geofencing" software onboard new drones to help hobby pilots steer clear of danger.

The FAA said it now receives more than 100 reports each month from across the nation of unsafe drone flying.

Selected incidents in Pacific Northwest skies reported by airlines to the FAA between August 2015 and September 2016:

  • Aug. 23, 2015 - Alaska Airlines Flight 60, a Boeing 737 inbound to Seattle from southeast Alaska, observed a black and gray UAS off the left side of the aircraft as the jet was descending from 6,000 feet to 5,500 feet altitude. No evasive action taken, but Kingston (Washington) Police Department notified.
  • Sept. 21, 2015 - Kenmore Air employee reported seeing a UAS in vicinity of South Lake Union seaplane flight path. Seattle Police notified. Kenmore Air operates seaplanes on scheduled routes from a busy dock on the lake near downtown Seattle.
  • Oct. 11, 2015 - American Airlines 1402, a Boeing 737-800 inbound to Seattle from Dallas-Ft. Worth, reported a UAS over Renton, Washington, at 7,000 feet. No evasive action taken, but Port of Seattle Police notified.
  • Oct. 22, 2015 - The pilot of Delta Air Lines 1857, a Boeing 737-900, reported to the FAA that his jump seat passenger observed a drone during final approach to the runway at SeaTac around 2,400 feet altitude. The drone was seen at the same altitude. This Boeing model seats 180 passengers.
  • Jan. 22, 2016 - Southwest Airlines 1848, a Boeing 737, reported seeing a gold, saucer-shaped UAS 100 feet below the aircraft's left wing at 5,100 feet altitude in the Portland vicinity. No evasive action taken.
  • July 8, 2016 - A Compass Airlines Embraer 170, flying on behalf of Delta from Sacramento to Seattle observed a purple and red drone at 200 feet while on final approach to the runway at SeaTac. Seattle Police notified. The Embraer 170 regional jet can seat 69 passengers.
  • Sept. 3, 2016 - A Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 turboprop advised SeaTac tower they observed what they thought were balloons, but as they looked closer could have possibly been a drone, black in color, off to the right of the aircraft while on final approach to SeaTac runway at 2,000 feet. The reporting airline was not specified in the FAA report. Horizon Air and Air Canada Jazz fly the 76-passenger Q400 turboprops into Seattle.

Correspondent Emily Schwing contributed to this report.

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