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FAA probes pilot sightings of drone near JFK Airport

WASHINGTON – U.S. aviation regulators are investigating three reports since Nov. 16 of drones flying close to airliners near New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Pilots on a JetBlue Airways flight told the Federal Aviation Administration they spotted a drone as they approached JFK at 1:50 p.m. Wednesday, the agency said in a statement.

Crews on two flights nearing JFK, one operated by Delta Air Lines and the other by Virgin Atlantic Airways, saw an unmanned aircraft shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 16, according to the statement.

“The reports did not indicate any of the pilots took evasive action,” the FAA said in the statement. “All three flights landed safely.”

The FAA has struggled to control the rapidly growing use of unmanned aircraft by those who haven’t been schooled in the agency’s safety rules. The agency’s legal authority to regulate civilian drones was upheld on Nov. 18 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

While the FAA permits recreational unmanned aircraft flights by hobbyists, the agency says they aren’t allowed within five miles of airports and should never be flown near traditional aircraft. The agency hasn’t approved drone flights for commercial purposes except for an exemption granted to six Hollywood movie makers and two oil companies in the Arctic region of Alaska.

Those rules haven’t stopped people from sending small unmanned copters and planes aloft, according to videos on YouTube.com, FAA reports and interviews with operators. The New York incidents are the latest near airports.

The Delta and Virgin Atlantic planes were flying 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of JFK when they spotted the drone Nov. 16, the FAA said.