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Are drones a serious threat to aircraft?


A near-crash incident between a drone and a passenger plane in Cornwall, in August this year caused alarm in airport authorities and govt. agencies. And with a rapid growth in demand for drones, chances of getting such incidents converted into serious accidents are becoming more plausible.

As a result, governments around the world are keeping a close eye at the dangers they pose — especially to regular aircrafts. Taking a step forward in that direction, the UK government recently commissioned a series of test crashes between drones and planes, to find out exactly how much damage a quadcopter could cause in a real-life collision.

The tests are being funded by the UK’s Department for Transport and will be carried out by military contractor Qinetiq, with a full report expected to be published before the end of the year. Instead of using commercial jets, military aircrafts will be used to carry out the tests. According to a report, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority will examine the damage to airplane fuselage.

“The testing of potential collision impacts between a drone and a fixed wing aircraft is currently being carried out on behalf of the UK Ministry of Defense,” a CAA spokesperson told a website. It’s not known where the tests will take place, or exactly what they will involve.

In the UK, there have been a number of times, when a UAV nearly missed an aircraft; however, the regulators say the reports exaggerate the danger than the actual threat. Similarly, in a report released last year by the Federal Aviation Authority of the US, had 678 cases where drones were sighted and near missed US pilots. But a closer look at the data shows these numbers were inflated.

One so-called collision in April this year was later blamed on a plastic bag blowing into a runway. To date in Europe, there have been only three confirmed collisions between drones and aircraft, all involving single or two-seater planes, with damage limited to scrapes on the paintwork.

An investigation by the Academy of Model Aeronautics found that only 3.5 percent of these sightings were actual near misses, and many objects were being misclassified as drones including “a large vulture,” a “mini blimp,” and “a UFO.”

However, drones certainly still pose a danger to larger aircrafts, and the damage they can cause, would have definitely need to be assessed the same way regulators and aeronautic companies examine collisions with birds. But in order to provide security to human lives, can we ignore the usage and applications a drone offers, is a big question.