Jetpack Spotted Above Los Angeles for a Second Time


Hannah Kutnick, Writer

A person using a jetpack was spotted 6,000 feet in the air near the Los Angeles International Airport by crew members on a commercial airliner in mid-October. It was the second sighting in nearly 6 weeks. 

Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) and the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) are investigating multiple reports of a person hovering in a jetpack about seven miles northwest of the Los Angeles International Airport. It was reported by the China Airlines’ crew that the individual was at an altitude of approximately 6,000 feet, which is twice the height of the earlier encounter in late August. 

The previous spotting occurred at about 3,000 feet. It was first reported by the pilot of an American Airlines flight, then by other pilots only minutes afterwards. “Tower, American 1997 — we just passed a guy in a jetpack,” said the pilot to the tower at LAX. The pilot stated that the person was about 300 yards from the left side of the plane. A controller added after one sighting report, “Only in L.A.”

Pilot and professor of aviation at Ohio State University, Seth Young, called it “very dangerous” to be flying so close to an airplane. It is exceptionally hazardous in busy airspace, such as over the Los Angeles International Airport. Dr. Young also said “The risk is obviously having a collision with that airplane or getting a drone, or the person getting ingested into an engine.” There were no injuries either time, but these could have ended as fatal incidents. 

The encounters were both surprising, considering that the few jet-powered vehicles in existence aren’t usually able to fly at high altitudes or for long periods of time. According to The New York Times, “Jetpacks have long been portrayed as futuristic vehicles in comic books and spy movies, but not much headway has been made in making the technology safe and available for recreational or commercial use.”

One of the main limitations is fuel efficiency. The majority of jetpacks are not built to fly for more than a few minutes. They are mainly used by rich tourists, thrill seekers, and inventors. However, jetpacks are not sold to individuals for recreational purposes, and most companies require users to take long courses to learn how to operate them correctly in controlled space. 

David Mayman is the founder of JetPack Aviation, which claims to have invented “the world’s only JetPack.” He commented, “Honestly, we don’t know who’s working on a machine that would be foolish enough or reckless enough to do that.”

Jetpacks are among a growing list of modern dangers pilots are facing while in the air, including drones and laser pointers. In recent years, the F.A.A. has instituted rules and restrictions for flying aerial vehicles near airports. Flying a jetpack adjacent to an airport like LAX would require authorization from the F.A.A.

While new inventions like jetpacks seem impressive and intriguing, we need to be mindful of the ways and places they are used to limit potential casualties and to make the air safer for airplanes.