One day after reports of drone activity near Newark Liberty International Airport temporarily halted flights, there are questions about whether the unmanned object spotted in the New Jersey sky was indeed a drone.
“We continue to work with local law enforcement to find additional evidence,” the spokesman said.
The agency had initially said that the drones were spotted near Teterboro Airport, a smaller airport located about 17 miles north of Newark. On Wednesday, they said the drones were operating about nine miles from Newark Airport in airspace used by incoming flights.
Industry experts, however, are pushing back against the reports. The objects could have been balloons, plastic bags or space junk, they said. Adam Lisberg, spokesman for DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, said the pilots probably spotted something in the air but that it’s unlikely it was a drone.
More reason to be skeptical of the Newark drone sightings: @flightradar24 shows both planes going ~250 mph when they supposedly spotted something the size of a dinner plate at 3,500 feet. Whatever they saw, it probably wasn’t a drone. pic.twitter.com/EKrDOraLDr— Adam Lisberg (@adamlisberg) January 23, 2019
One reason, Lisberg said: The drones were reportedly flying at 3,500 feet. Under FAA rules, drones are not permitted to fly higher than 400 feet. And while it’s possible for them to fly higher with FAA permission, Lisberg said it’s “highly unlikely.”
He said previous reports of drones flying near Gatwick and Heathrow airports in London — have made people more “predisposed” to assuming that when they see something in the air, it’s a drone.
“There’s certainly cases of knuckleheads flying drones where they shouldn’t be, but we have strong reservations on [the Newark] report,” he said. “There has been case after case after case of someone who saw a drone in the air that turned out to be a bat or a balloon or a plastic bag.”
Federal officials are wrestling with how to regulate drones as their numbers continue to grow. Government officials estimate that more than 1 million are already in use.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes to Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI. They should have been attributed to DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg,