GREENSBORO — A drone flying within Piedmont Triad International Airport’s airspace Tuesday night caused one flight to be diverted and runways to be closed to other flights for 90 minutes.
The FBI is now investigating what is a federal crime that disrupted airport operations and caused an emergency situation with the control tower, according to Kevin Baker, PTI’s executive director.
The FBI said in a news release the drone appeared to launch from the area of Market Street and Regional Road, which is adjacent to the PTI property.
The airport received its first reports of a drone in the airspace around 9:15 p.m. The unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t permitted to fly within five miles of an airport’s airspace, according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
By 10 p.m., after several sightings of the drone, controllers made the decision to delay flights.
“We suspended air operations — pretty much out of an abundance of caution,” Baker said.
He couldn’t say how many flights were affected, but Baker said one flight was diverted to Charlotte and later returned after the airport was reopened around 11:30 p.m.
In addition to the FBI and the FAA, Baker said the Transportation Security Administration and airport police have joined the investigation.
Baker declined to give details about any potential suspects, but said the agencies are seeking information from the public that could help.
Baker said the incident, and any drone flying near the airport, is disruptive in a variety of ways. Not only is it a major safety issue, but it also inconveniences passengers, causes cargo delays and interferes with the tight airport schedule.
The airport is warning drone operators and parents of children who have drones that piloting one in the wrong place is a serious federal crime that could lead to fines and even imprisonment.
“Anybody harmed in a legal sense may have a claim,” Baker said.
That could include inconvenienced passengers, airlines that have to pay for extra fuel and crew time and companies expecting cargo that is delayed.
“Every individual package represents a potential claim,” Baker said. “It’s something to stay away from. It’s just a shame that somebody is out here behaving this way.”