About 23 near-misses occurred in airports located in the United Kingdom’s airports in only six months. There have been demands for research to be made to have a clear idea on what would most likely happen if a drone were to hit an airliner.
According to reports from the United Kingdom’s Airprox Board, the near-misses occurred between April 4 and October 4, 2015.
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On one occasion, the drone was within a very close 82 ft (25 m) of a Boeing 777 near London Heathrow Airport!
The union of pilots British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) wants stakeholders like safety regulators and the government to conduct research into how serious a drone striking a plane could be.
The incident, which occurred at Heathrow Airport in London, was one of the 12 near-misses that was adjudged a rating of “A” by the independent board. An “A” rating indicates that there is a very strong risk of collision between the drone and the passenger jet.
Other incidents that were given a similar rating involve one that occurred on the September 13, where a drone was about 66 ft (20 m) from contact with a Embraer170 jet on its way to landing at the London City Airport above the Houses of Parliament.
Warnings Pertaining to Engine Failure
That very day, a Boeing 737 plane also had a near miss with a drone not long after takeoff from the Stansted Airport located in Essex.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has prohibited drones from flying within a distance of 164 ft (50 m) of any vessel, vehicle or structure that is not in control of the person flying the drone.
Former RAF and British Airways pilot Steve Landells warned that a drone hitting an airliner could result in an uncontrolled engine failure or a smashed cockpit windscreen.
Mr. Landells, Balpa’s flight safety specialist, said there was a large amount of data on the effects of bird strikes on planes, but he said specific drone research was needed because “birds don’t have a big lump of lithium battery in them.”
A lot of pilots are of the opinion that it wouldn’t be long before a drone strikes an airplane. But no one has an idea of what would be the outcome of a collision between a drone and a commercial airplane.
Balpa says it is possible a drone could smash the windscreen, showering the crew with glass, or even cause an uncontrolled engine fire, which could bring down the aircraft.
A similar incident occurred in 2009 when an aircraft hit a flock of geese leading to the loss of both engines. It was quick thinking and skill of the pilot that saved the lives of everyone on board. He brilliantly glided the aircraft down in an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
Balpa says a drone strike could be even worse, because they have powerful lithium batteries on board that could start an engine fire. It’s now asking the government and the safety regulator to help pay for tests to see just how serious a drone strike might be.
Philippa Oldham, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said the consequences of a drone hitting an airliner would depend on a number of factors such as the size and speed of the drone and the location of the collision.
“The impact potentially could be anything from nothing to a destruction of an engine,” she said.
People who fly drones close to planes could be convicted of endangering the safety of an aircraft, which has a maximum prison sentence of five years, the CAA said.
A spokesman for the regulator urged drone users to understand that the UK has “one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said public safety was their first priority and it is working closely with the CAA and airline operators to “improve our understanding and knowledge this emerging technology.”