Drones and commercial aircraft on a collision course

Flights into and out of Sweden’s Arlanda Airport were delayed Monday night as air traffic control dealt with a new instance of an increasingly common problem: a drone having been spotted in airspace where it posed a collision risk to commercial airliners.

Monday’s incident wasn’t the first time that a drone interfered with air traffic in the region around Arlanda, which serves both Stockholm, 35 kilometres to the south, and Uppsala, 30 kilometres to the north. A 2014 report noted that drones flown in the airspace around Bromma Airport, a smaller airfield used mainly by budget carriers, occasionally caused flights to be diverted. Indeed, Bromma was closed for half an hour one day last month due to a drone being flown in restricted airspace.

While a drone might seem small compared to a jetliner, neither airlines nor pilots care to be burdened with the consequences of one being ingested into an engine, and no one wants to find out what would happen if a drone struck a windscreen, or the horizontal or vertical stabilizer at the back, at flight speeds.

Yet the day is likely coming when an aircraft and a drone will collide, hopefully without any consequences more serious than a smashed-up drone and a bit of superficial damage to the passing aircraft. Consider the following incidents:

June 5, 2015: A Southwest Boeing 737 landing at Dallas’s Love Field passed “a few hundred feet” from a drone being flown uncomfortably close to the arrival flight path. Another aircraft claimed to see a drone flying close to the approach path as well.

May 23, 2015: An Air Canada Embraer 190 taking off from Toronto en route to Saskatoon took “an evasive manoeuvre” to avoid colliding with a yellow- and black-coloured object flying at 2,200 feet above sea level (or about 1,600 feet above ground).

Sept. 1, 2014: A WestJet Boeing 737 was approaching Calgary inbound from San Diego at 7,000 feet above sea level (or about 3,500 feet above ground) when the pilots observed “a remote controlled vehicle crossing their flight path at the same altitude in front of them”.

And perhaps the most bizarre incident of them all:

March 19, 2014: The pilots of a chartered Dash-8 flying at 3,800 feet above sea level (3,700 feet above ground) over the northern outskirts of Perth, Australia noticed “a bright strobe light directly in front of the aircraft . . . [which] appeared to track towards the aircraft”. They took evasive action to avoid a collision with a grey, cylindrical-shaped object that passed about 20 metres off to the side of the aircraft and 30 metres below. The object that nearly collided with the aircraft remains unidentified, and the incident has been classified by Australian air safety investigators as a “serious incident” involving “interference from the ground”.




About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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