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Threat from drones steadily increasing, ATSB warns

March 22, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

As the number of drones increases, the risk of aircraft colliding with them also grows – and the impact is similar to striking a large bird, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has warned.

A newly released drone safety report by the ATSB found that the number of aircraft encounters with drones is rising. Statistical models forecast a 75% increase in the number of “near encounters” in 2017. Most occur in capital cities (Sydney in particular) and mostly at heights above 1000ft (304 metres).

The report calls drones RPAS, which stands for remotely piloted aircraft systems.

Drone soaring

“While there have been no reported collisions between RPAS and manned aircraft in Australia, and given the variables, the potential consequences of collisions are not yet fully understood.

“Our report seeks to better understand the implications for transport safety associated with the expected continual growth in the number of RPAS in Australia,” ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said.

“We expect there could be a doubling in the number of RPAS in Australia by the end of 2017.”

The ATSB said that about half of the 180 drone occurrences reported from 2012 to 2016 “involved proximity encounters with manned aircraft”. The terms “proximity encounters” and “near encounters” mean, in layman’s language, near-misses.

“Over 60% of all reported RPAS encounters (108 occurrences) occurred in 2016 (69 occurrences),” the ATSB said.

“Based on our knowledge of birdstrikes, RPAS collisions with high capacity air transport aircraft could lead to an engine ingestion in about 8% of strikes,” Hood said.

To date, there have been no reported collisions between drones and manned aircraft in Australia, and only five worldwide. Most of those have produced nothing worse than scratches, though nobody is advocating complacency.

“RPAS also have the potential to damage a general aviation aircraft’s flight surfaces (wings and tail), which could result in a loss of control”. The term “general aviation” means a light aircraft, not one generally used by domestic airlines.

“Similar to the impact from a large bird, collision between a RPAS and a general aviation aircraft’s windscreen poses a high risk of penetration.”

The operation of remotely piloted aircraft requires close monitoring as the popularity of these aircraft continues to rapidly grow, the report says.

The ATSB research report: A safety analysis of remotely piloted aircraft systems 2012 to 2016, can be downloaded here.

Written by Peter Needham

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