EASA task force to assess collisions between drones and aircraft

EASA will then publish its results by end of July and organise a workshop with stakeholders to present and discuss its findings and recommendations.

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The European Aviation Safety Agency announced today the creation of a task force to assess the risk of collision between drones and aircraft. It will then publish its results by end of July and organise a workshop with stakeholders to present and discuss its findings and recommendations.

Specifically, the task force will:

  • Review all relevant occurrences including the occurrences collected by the European Member States,
  • Analyse the existing studies on the subject of impact between drones and aircraft,
  • Study the vulnerabilities of aircraft (windshields, engines, and airframe) taking into account the different categories of aircraft (large aeroplanes, general aviation, and helicopters) and their associated design and operational requirements,
  • Consider the possibility to do further research and perform actual tests (for example on windshields).

EASA will chair the task force which will include representatives of aircraft and engine manufacturers and the will consult the European member states and other relevant stakeholders, as well as foreign authorities.

The regulatory framework for the safe operations of drones in Europe currently being developed by EASA already addresses the issue of collision between drones and aircraft.

A combination of measures are envisaged such as: Operate in visual line of sight, fly under 150 m height above ground, be equipped with identification and geo-limitation functions and be registered. Any operation of drones close to aerodromes would require a specific authorisation from the national aviation authority based on a risk assessment.

Meanwhile, police in the UK are investigating a pilot’s claim that his aircraft was struck by a drone as it approached Heathrow airport. British Airways said the A320 had been examined by engineers and cleared to take off for its next flight after the incident.

Steve Landells, flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), said: “Frankly it was only a matter of time before we had a drone strike given the huge numbers being flown around by amateurs who don’t understand the risks and the rules.

“It appears that no serious damage was done on this occasion, but what is clear is that while most drones are flown safely, sensibly and within the limits of the law, much more education of drone users and enforcement of the rules is needed to ensure our skies remain safe from this threat.”

Earlier this month, the airline pilots’ union called for an investigation into the likely effects of a drone strike on an aircraft after a report by the UK Airprox Board found that there were 23 near-misses between drones and aircraft in the six months between April and October last year.

They included one on 22 September, when a B777 that had just taken off reported that a drone narrowly passed the right hand side of the airliner. Investigators concluded that the drone was at the same height and within 25 metres of the jet. A report was made to police but the drone operator was not traced.

Days later, a drone was flown within a few metres of an A319 landing at Heathrow. The pilot told the UK Airprox Board the drone may have been just 20 feet above and 25 yards to the left when it passed by the aircraft. The aircraft was flying at an altitude of 500 feet and was on the final approach when the drone was spotted.

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