Popularity of Drones Raises Safety Concerns

It's not just the government that is buying drones.

For years, remote controlled aircraft, some of which are toys, have been on the market. But what's available today are far from toys. For roughly $700, you can purchase what is known as " The Phantom" at a hobby store. It's a four-rotor drone that can carry a small camera, fly at approximately 22 miles per hour and climb to an altitude of nearly 1,000 feet.

However, flying such drones above 400 feet and within three miles of an airport violates federal guidelines, possibly even the law. Additionally, using drones for business is forbidden.

The Federal Aviation Administration is working on new regulations for operating drones.

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Credit: Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt/US Air Force/AP Photo

Drone operating restrictions entered the spotlight when, on Monday, something happened that has never happened before.

Just five miles from John F. Kennedy airport in New York, a jumbo jet operated by Alitalia was on its final approach - one of the most critical times during a flight - when the pilot spotted something.

"Kennedy tower, just for your information," the pilot told the control tower according to a recording posted on LiveATC.net. "We just saw a little drone below us."

The Alitalia pilot said that while approaching the airport at an altitude of roughly 1,500 feet, a small, black, four-rotor craft came within 200 feet of his Boeing 777 jet.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now on the case asking for the public's help to find the culprit.

Monday's incident over JFK worries pilots.

"A couple of pounds hitting an airplane going 200, 250 miles per hour," said Steve Ganyard, a consultant with ABC News. "If it hits the wrong place, like coming through the cockpit, hits the glass, it can hit the pilot or the co-pilot. It could hit an engine, take out an engine."

For more than a decade, the U.S. military has been using drones to spy, even hunt and kill terrorists around the world. Both the Army and the Navy have their own versions, and now police departments are using small hand-launched drones to look for suspects, or missing children.