Pilots Want Drone Tests Over Collision Fears
Tests should be carried out to discover what would happen if a drone struck a passenger jet after a number of recent near misses, according to airline pilots.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) is calling on the Department of Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to support research into the possible consequences of such an event.
Steve Landells, a former RAF and British Airways pilot, warned that a collision between a drone and an airliner could result in an uncontrolled engine failure or a smashed cockpit windscreen.
Some 23 near misses between jets and drones were investigated by the UK Airprox Board (UKAB) in just six months.
Twelve of these incidents were given an A rating – meaning there was “a serious risk of collision”.
Mr Landells, who is BALPA’s flight safety specialist, said there is a large amount of data on the effects of bird strikes on planes, but he said this does not provide a true representation of what would happen with a drone because “birds don’t have a big lump of lithium battery in them”.
He said it is “very likely” the battery of a standard quadcopter drone entering the core of a jet engine would cause an uncontained engine failure.
“You end up with very high velocity bits of metal going anywhere they like,” he said.
“That could be through fuel tanks, through hydraulic lines and even into the cabin.
“Losing the engine is not going to cause an aircraft to crash because they are designed to fly with one engine down.
“But an uncontained engine failure is going to be different every time. That could be very serious indeed.”
Mr Landells explained what he would like the testing, which could cost around £250,000, to involve.
“The first thing we want to do is get a drone or at least the critical parts of a drone flying at a windscreen of an aircraft,” he said.
“The indications so far with computer modelling are that you’ll end up with penetration of a windscreen.
“One possibility is that the battery smashes the windscreen and the inside layer of the windscreen shatters and you end up with a lot of glass in the cockpit, probably moving at quite high speed.”
A CAA spokesman said: “The CAA has a number of on-going activities aimed at raising awareness around the basic safety requirements of using drones, which includes our ‘Dronecode’ safety awareness campaign.
“Furthermore, we are already working alongside the DfT and industry partners, to better understand the potential risks and outcomes of a drone hitting a manned aircraft, and this work will provide us with further evidence to drive safety regulation of drones.”
The DfT said it will set out more details of its plans to ensure proper regulations are in place in a Government strategy on the use of drones later this year.