Two pilots preparing to land Sunday night at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were surprised when they spotted an individual apparently riding a jetpack, or rocket pack, flying at about 3,000 feet. The incident is already being investigated by the FBI.
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, told Univision News that the agency has a report of “an unannounced object that possibly interfered” with Sunday’s flights at LAX.
“That’s a concern for us,” he said. “About what it was, we’re not going to speculate; we want to get concrete information from the pilots about where it (the sighting) was and why it happened near a plane. Sometimes there is no criminal intent, but it is done for fun, but so far we have not identified anyone.
“Rocket backpacks” are not allowed by the FAA
Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson for the Pacific Division told Univision News that any pilot needs air traffic control permission to enter the highly controlled airspace around LAX, “And, of course, pilots cannot create a hazard for any other aircraft.
The FAA spokesperson said that individuals with FAA-issued pilot’s licenses who violate the regulations may face penalties ranging from warnings to suspensions or revocations of their licenses.
“If a pilot did not have a pilot’s license issued by the FAA and violated a regulation, the FAA could fine him,” he said, adding that the FAA does not certify jet packs as a separate aircraft category or issue pilot’s licenses specifically to operate such devices.
“A jet pack could function as an ultralight (flying object) if it met the definitions of that category of aircraft,” he said.
Among other things, an ultralight flying device must only accommodate the pilot, weigh less than 254 pounds empty, have a fuel capacity of 5 gallons or less and reach a maximum speed of 55 knots.
However, these ultralight flying devices or jetpacks are not registered with the FAA and a pilot’s license is not required to fly in one.
Based on this, the FAA applies restrictions for flying jetpacks. They can only be flown during the day, although in the case of the LAX it was done on Sunday night.
“They must fly in a manner that does not pose a danger to any other aircraft and cannot be flown over densely populated areas, nor can they be flown in controlled airspace, without FAA authorization,” he said.
Seth Young, a pilot instructor at Ohio State University, told Univision News that “space safety is the responsibility of the FAA.
He said that, in the worst case scenario, a jetpack weighing at least 200 pounds (the weight of the equipment and the person) could cause significant damage to the engine, a window or a wing of the plane, “and could cause uncontrollable failure in a matter of seconds and even the inability to make an unsafe landing.
The clearest evidence when a foreign object gets in the way of a flight, he said, occurred with the crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009.
“Some geese crashed into the plane and the pilot had to maneuver to make that landing which saved the lives of 155 people; it happened at a height similar to that of the jet pack in Los Angeles,” said Seth Young. “If this person did it on purpose or recklessly, there are guidelines that indicate they could face up to a year in prison.
By Jorge Macias – Univision
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