JFK Air Traffic Control to Alitalia Flight 608: Uh, what did you see?

Alitalia to JFK: We saw a drone, a drone aircraft.

JFK to Alitalia: What altitude did you see the aircraft?

Alitalia to JFK: About 1,500 feet.

That was the harrowing exchange from March 4 between an air traffic controller at New York City’s JFK International Airport and a commercial airliner about to land there.

The conversation and the close encounter take on an even more frightening aspect given the Obama administration’s claim that the president is empowered in an “extraordinary circumstance” to deploy drones to assassinate targets within the United States.

Despite several days of investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the FBI, there are still more questions than answers surrounding the drone sighting and the near collision over Queens in New York City, a borough with a population of over two million.

Some of the details of the event are known, however. When Alitalia Flight 608 was on its final approach about three miles from JFK runway 31R, the pilot saw a black drone powered by four propellers and about three feet in diameter. According to the pilot’s account of the sighting, the drone flew within 200 feet of the plane full of passengers.

Questions: Who was controlling the drone? Why was it flying dangerously close to a commercial jetliner? Who owns the unmanned aerial vehicle? Who issued the license? Who knew of its flight path?

The FAA is the federal agency charged with issuing licenses for domestic drone controllers, but it claims it knows nothing about the drone in question.

The FBI says it’s in the dark, too.

“The FBI is asking anyone with information about the unmanned aircraft or the operator to contact us,” said Special Agent John Giacalone in statement released after the incident. “Our paramount concern is the safety of aircraft passengers and crew,” he added.

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