Alan Mckenna reports that the UK and United States have an increasing concern about the safety of manned aircraft from drones. The UK had 28 reported close calls in 2015 between drones and manned aircraft as well as an increased number of drone complaints received. Per the FAA, hundreds of drones a month have had near misses with manned aircraft in the United States. Convictions are hard to achieve as identifying the drone pilot can be challenging. In the UK, only 3 drone pilots were convicted in 2015. The main fear with these near misses is that the drones might be sucked into a plane’s engine and possibly cause it to crash.
Though fears are heightened, the problem has been downplayed by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Per Mckenna, they “believe that the true number of actual near misses to be far smaller, with the bulk of cases actually being reports of sightings of drones in general, unrelated to near miss situations.” Recent research from Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond at George Mason University supports the notion that there isn’t much of a threat. Dourado and Hammond analyzed bird strike data on planes in U.S. airspace and used those findings to assess how much of a risk to manned aircraft drones weighing up to 2 kg really are. Per Mckenna, though they admit the comparison of bird to drone isn’t perfect due to a drone being composed differently, they found the “likelihood of a damaging drone strike on a manned aircraft occurring no more than every 1.87 million years of 2kg drone flight time” to be acceptable.
With 882 reported 2015 laser incidents just through September (according to official CAA data), Mckenna believes laser pen shining in the eyes of pilots to be more of a threat. He cites multiple incidents – one in October 2015 where a man received a 6 month prison sentence for endangering 3 aircraft and a helicopter by shining a laser at them. Mckenna continues by pointing out that the General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association deems it enough of a threat to call “for laser pens to reclassified as offensive weapons.”
He then postulates that drones with lasers will be more common due to the limited technical skill it takes to combine the two items with the help of Youtube instructions. This will raise the risk even further for manned aircraft and regulation of drone misuse will continue to be a challenge for regulators globally.
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