Drones - A Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

​Drones are on a collision course for a major mid-air catastrophe according to senior figures in UK aviation. Figures released today show that in four recent separate incidents, UAVs were involved in near misses with craft, including a passenger jet, at UK airports.

The UK Airprox Board investigated seven incidents involving drones, four of which were classified as being in the most serious bracket.

The Guardian reports that pilots believe that a collision with an airliner could be catastrophic, and that the impact of a drone strike on a light plane or helicopter would almost certainly bring those aircraft down.

Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), is quoted in the paper: “The reports that UK Airprox gets are the ones that are seen. But when you’re flying at more than 100mph, the chances of seeing a typical, 18-inch wide drone are small. We don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg. With the massive increase in drone sales, we fear we might see a dramatic rise in close calls.”

A major incident in the holding pattern around Heathrow at 8,000ft was particularly concerning, he said: “That means the problem is getting higher and drones are getting into more conflict.”

Since drones fly with hard, lithium ion batteries, if one hits a jet engine, it could potentially cause an “uncontained engine failure, with bits of metal flying off penetrating cabin and fuel tanks”.

The UK does not currently have a mandated registry of drone pilots or UAVs which means that many consumer drones are being flown without proper checks. The growing number of incidents could lead to regulations being tightened.

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