By Alwyn Scott
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An American Airlines Group Inc aircraft almost collided with a drone above Florida earlier this year, a near accident that spotlights the growing risk from the rising use of unmanned aircraft, the U.S. air safety regulator said.
The pilot of the airliner told authorities a small, remote-control aircraft came dangerously close to his plane about 2,300 feet above the ground over Tallahassee Regional Airport, said Jim Williams, manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Office.
"The airplane pilot said that the UAS was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it," Williams said at an industry conference on Thursday, referring to an unmanned aircraft system.
The aircraft, operated an American subsidiary, did not show damage when it was inspected after the March 22 incident, Williams said.
But "the risk for a small UAS to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real," Williams said. "The results could be catastrophic."
American said it is "aware of the published report alleging an incident with one of our express flights and we are investigating."
The airline said it would share any information with the FAA and would not comment further.
The incident was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his address to the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo, Williams also showed videos of several drone accidents, including one in which a drone crashed into a crowd during the running of the bulls in Richmond, Virginia, last fall. The incident was caused by a battery failure and there were minor injuries, he said.
The FAA currently bans the commercial use of drones in the United States and has come under growing criticism for failing to set rules that would permit their broader use. Last year, the agency began establishing test sites where businesses can try out commercial uses.