Close Call With Drones Increasing – Skies Unsafe For Aircraft Owing To Near-Miss With UAVs, Says Study

Aircrafts are having an increasing number of close calls with drones, says a new study. American skies aren’t safe for commercial airplanes, and the situation is only going to deteriorate owing to huge number of these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) being imported in the country.

A new study released by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College sheds light on how often small drones have interfered with commercial aircraft. The study indicated that between 2013 and 2015, over 327 “close encounters” or close calls have been reported.

A “close encounter” is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as a near collision, reported Skift. In other words, when an unmanned aircraft, such as a drone, comes quite close to a manned aircraft and provides some level of hazard to the latter, the “incident” is termed as a “close encounter.” Fortunately, no drone has ever brought down a plane on American soil, but their increasing numbers are posing greater risk to commercial planes. It could only be a matter of time before a close call translates into an accident involving innocent lives.

The report stated there have been about 921 “incidents” where drones were found to hover in the same airspace routinely used by manned aircraft during 2013 to 2015. The study added that such incidents were more likely to involve multi-rotor drones like the ones commonly flown by amateur photographers and videographers than fixed-wing drones, which are flown by aviation enthusiasts. Surprisingly, the majority of the close calls occurred well above the Federal Aviation Administration’s imposed 400-foot ceiling for unmanned aircraft and the banning of drones within five miles of an airport.

By flying a drone above the stipulated ceiling and so close to an airport, the drones are posing the same risk as birds do to fixed-wing aircraft. A miniature drone could easily get sucked inside the turbines of a commercial jetliner and blow the engine, risking the entire aircraft and the lives of the passengers within.

Amateurs flying these advanced multi-rotor drones have become a serious problem for manned aircraft, reported CivSource. Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone stated that pilots had often come dangerously close to the drones and had to sometimes conduct emergency evasive maneuvers to avoid running into them.

“We counted 158 incidents in which a drone came within 200ft or less of a manned aircraft (two-thirds of all close encounters in which a concrete drone-to-aircraft proximity is given). 51 incidents in which the proximity was 50 ft or less, and 28 incidents in which a pilot maneuvered to avoid a collision with a drone.”

The study is an eye-opener, especially during a time when the FAA estimates over a million new drones are expected to enter U.S. airspace during the holidays. While the relatively cheaper hoverboards recently started going up in flames, the drones, which are increasingly popular with hobbyist users, could be risking many more people.

While registration of drones has become mandatory, many of these UAVs could still pose a risk. Realizing that aircraft will have many close calls with drones, Japanese police built a drone that catches errant drones. The net-wielding multi-rotor UAV can snatch other drones out of the sky before they pose a threat to manned aircraft. An American company has developed a directional radio jammer to disable a drone mid-flight, reported the Guardian.

Notwithstanding the laws, there is a dire need to promote a culture of safety and accountability among users, said Anthony Foxx, an official from the FAA.

He added, “This year, pilots of commercial aircraft have reported seeing unmanned aircraft twice as recently as in 2014.”

The study concludes that apart from stringent legislation, a “combination of approaches” that will depend on the “collaboration of a multitude of stakeholders” is needed to minimize the close calls of aircraft with drones.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]