Drones. Tiny flying devices that zip around the skies controlled by a human holding a remote control. For many, drones are simply toys, and flying them is nothing more than a hobby or pastime, while others use them for legitimate purposes such as photography or recording videos. They don’t sound particularly dangerous, but could they have the potential to cause serious accidents such as an air disaster?
One recent incident in the UK certainly gave cause for concern, when a drone crashed into an Airbus 320 that was approaching Heathrow airport. Thankfully the plane went on to land successfully and no major damage was recorded, but could this be a worrying sign of things to come?
How many incidents have been recorded of drones interfering with aircraft?
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK, state that to date there have been many incidents involving drones at UK airports, some of them having been classed as near miss scenarios, and the threat is in no way limited to British skies.
The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) reports that they receive a minimum of 100 reports of drone incidents at airports or in registered airspace each month. One such report involved a drone that was seen flying over Los Angeles airport at the same altitude that aircraft fly when in a holding pattern. The potential for an accident there is obvious to anyone.
Istanbul airport is the fifth busiest in the entire world, and a drone was recently spotted flying overhead despite the protection zones that are in place to prevent remote controlled crafts from being able to enter.
Drones have also been recorded flying onto the lawn of the White House, and in France, French authorities reported numerous incidents of drones being flown over their nuclear facilities a few years back, proving that it’s not just our airports that are potentially at risk.
How can we tackle the problem without banning drone use?
Global sales of drones are set to continue growing, and it’s clear that their popularity isn’t likely to wane. Many people use drones responsibly, along with companies who use them for wholly legitimate purposes, so banning them is not an answer. Making our skies safer, however, is a priority, if recent events are anything to go by.
Most aviation authorities around the world are trying to put into place the same regulations, but each are struggling to enforce them successfully. Detecting drones is perhaps the main cause of concern, since most air traffic control radar systems are designed only to detect and identify large aircraft, not little toy unmanned vehicles that fly at lower altitudes.
So firstly, all recreational drone owners and users should be required by law, to register with the relevant aviation authorities, and be mandated to undergo training before they fly. This is what happens for commercial drone operators; they must prove that they’re capable of safely flying a drone.
Then, secondly, sensors and intervention procedures need to be improved and updated. This may prove tricky and costly, but what price can be put on safety in the air, particularly when public safety may be at risk.
Domestic drones are fun to use and provided operators are responsible and abide by the laws put in place to protect the public, then there should be little cause for concern. But rogue operators who flout the rules and regulations, may be at risk of causing serious harm to others and stricter measures should certainly be taken to prevent such occurrences.
The explosion of drones has been fun. But now it’s time to get serious – better an exploding drone than an exploding plane.