Coddington, Hicks & Danforth

Are drones crashing into other aircraft?

Drones interfering with other aircraft in the sky is becoming an increasing problem. Though no fatalities have occurred yet, it may only be a matter of time.

Drones can create risky flying conditions for other aircraft. Drones can weigh up to 50 pounds, they can disrupt the flight pattern enough to cause pilots to veer off course or they can create the need for pilots to make emergency landings. It may only be a matter of time before more serious incidents occur.

The following are just some of the drone incidents or crashes have been reported in the United States and elsewhere in the world:

  • As recently as April 16, 2018, Heathrow Airport in London reported a drone flying within 20 feet above a 160-passenger commercial flight that was already 4,800 feet in the air. The United Kingdom, though not held to the FAA rules in the United States, has its own safety rules for flying drones in the UK skies. The UK rules overlap with US rules and state that the drone must be flown in line of sight and no higher than 400 feet.
  • In February of 2018, a crash in South Carolina was linked to a drone flying near a helicopter. The helicopter pilot swerved to avoid hitting the drone and struck a tree. This was the first report of an aviation accident involving a drone in the United States. The crash occurred when a pilot in training was flying low to the ground to practice that low-flying maneuver, and the drone flew right into the line of the pilot’s sight, according to the report.
  • On Feb 9, 2018, a drone struck a helicopter in on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, resulting in scratches to the helicopter. No injuries were reported.
  • On October 12, 2017, a Canadian incident occurred in Quebec City last year when a drone struck a small, 8-seater passenger plane, causing minor damage to a wing.
  • On September 21, 2017, a New York City drone incident involved an Army helicopter that was struck by a privately-owned drone. The FAA requires drones to be flown in the line of sight of the operator, but in this case the drone operator let the drone get out of the line of sight and the collision occurred. The Army pilot landed the helicopter safely.

Fortunately, in all cases reported above, the pilots managed to land their aircraft safely and incurred typically only minor damage to their planes or helicopters.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear guidelines for drone operators. Following the FAA rules could have prevented any one of these crashes. Many drone owners do follow the rules, but as noted by a leader from a hobbyist group, other drone operators are rebellious and will not follow the rules no matter what the rules are.

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