French inventor Frank Zapata grabbed headlines around the world this summer when he flew his hoverboard across the English channel from Pas de Calais, France, to the famous white cliffs of Dover. But Bay Area commuters may soon do Zapata one better by skimming above San Francisco Bay on autonomous, single-passenger drones being developed by a Peninsula start-up company with ties to Google. The automated drones are electrically powered, capable of vertical takeoff and landing, and would fly 10 feet above the water at 20 mph along a pre-determined flight path not subject to passenger controls. The drones' rotors are able to shift from vertical to horizontal alignment for efficient forward movement after takeoff. The company behind all this, three-year-old Kitty Hawk Corp., has personal financial backing from Google founder Larry Page, now CEO of Google's parent, Alphabet, who has long been interested in autonomous forms of transportation.
WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that 43 flights into New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport were required to hold after drone sightings at a nearby airport on Tuesday, while nine flights were diverted. The incident comes as major U.S. airports are assessing the threat of drones and have been holding meetings to address the issue. The issue of drones impacting commercial air traffic came to the fore after London's second-busiest airport, Gatwick Airport, was severely disrupted in December when drones were sighted on three consecutive days. An FAA spokesman said that Tuesday's event lasted for 21 minutes. The flights into Newark, the 11th-busiest U.S. airport, were suspended after a drone was seen flying at 3,500 feet over nearby Teterboro Airport, a small regional airport about 17 miles (27.3 km) away that mostly handles corporate jets and private planes.
An estimated 7 million drones will be flying in the skies by 2020; Claudia Cowan reports on the new technology being developed to keep airports safe. But some people either don't care or use drones to intentionally disrupt airport operations. Last December, drone sightings at London's Gatwick Airport forced a three-day shutdown, and canceled flights left thousands of stranded passengers scrambling. No one has been arrested in the case, and this past April, investigators said it could have been an inside job. In recent months, suspected or confirmed drone activity has grounded flights in Dubai, New Zealand, Israel, and at Newark Airport in New Jersey.
A British Airways aircraft was possibly hit by a drone Sunday near Heathrow airport as it was coming to land, which is likely to increase demands for greater checks on the flights of the devices. The Airbus A320 flight from Geneva, carrying 132 passengers and five crew members, appears to have not been significantly impacted and was cleared for its next flight, according to news reports. The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said it was aware of "a possible incident" with a drone at Heathrow on Sunday, which is subject to investigation by the Metropolitan Police. It reminded drone users of the country's "dronecode," which prohibits drones from flying above 400 feet (about 122 meters) and requires them to stay away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields. "It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment," the CAA said in a statement Sunday.
The airport's only runway was reopened on Friday morning, with a range or protection and surveillance measures reportedly put in place to prevent further chaos. One of the key tools for spotting drones will be radar. "The military has a range of technologies to secure airspace against planes, helicopters and drones," Mr Gill said. "They will be able to provide military-grade radar technology in order to help detect the drones and potentially the operators." One such radar system that may be deployed at Gatwick is the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, of which the British Army bought six earlier this year.