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Drone almost collided with American Airlines flight in Florida, officials hear

Drone came so close pilot was 'sure' the US jetliner had been hit

A drone almost collided into an American Airlines flight in Florida, coming so close the pilot believed he had collided into it, the Federal Aviation Administration has heard.

Jim Williams, of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft systems office, told officials the near-collision happened earlier this year as the pilot approached the Tallahassee runway en route from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The incident was reported to air traffic control on 22 March but was only disclosed publicly for the first time on Thursday.

The pilot said the American Airlines Flight 4650, a 50-seat jet, was at an altitude of about 2,300 feet (700 meters) when what appeared to be a remote-controlled aircraft came dangerously close.

It was described as "a camouflaged F-4 fixed-wing aircraft that was quite small."

The law currently requires that private individuals flying drones notify the airport operator and air traffic control facility when flying within five miles of an airport.

"The airline pilot said that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it," Mr Williams said. "Thankfully, inspection of the airliner after landing found no damage."

He highlighted the incident on the Hudson River where pilots of a US Airways Flight were forced to land the Airbus A320 on the river when a flock of birds was sucked into the engines. Because no-on died in the incident, it became known as the 'miracle on the Hudson'.

"The risk for a small UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real," Mr Williams told the conference.

“Imagine a metal and plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine.

“The results could be catastrophic.”

The FAA has been unable to identify the drone’s operator. In a statement, the FAA said "it is working aggressively to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace."

A US Defence Department spokesman said most military drones are not painted with camouflage, but the department had no further details of the incident.

American Airlines spokesman Paul Flaningan said the airline was aware of the alleged incident and that it was investigating the matter.