Drone near-misses with passenger aircraft are in the news today. The British pilots’ union BALPA is calling for trials to determine what damage a typical 1.5 kg drone would do if it collided with an aircraft in flight. This is on the back of 23 reported near-misses in UK airspace, including some at London’s flagship Heathrow Airport. See the BBC’s piece at BBC NEWS .
As a professional pilot with 30 years’ experience I think they might be overstating the case a little bit. I don’t disagree for a moment that impact with a 1.5 kg machine, incorporating a chunk of LiPo battery, at 150 knots plus is likely to cause some significant damage. It is the probability of the impact that seems pretty low to me, and probability is the other half of the risk equation.
If you take the number of drones in operation and subtract from that all of the platforms that are operated sensibly and safely away from aircraft, the figure will be very small. Compare that to the number of birds in the sky at any one time and it becomes tiny – and bird strikes are not that common in most places. And even if someone tried to deliberately fly a drone into an aircraft, there is no guarantee of success. As a drone pilot I know it wouldn’t be that easy.
Bottom line? Let’s have a sensible and reasoned debate about this but in the meantime the concern highlights the need to use competent and qualified drone operators for your aerial imaging needs.