As the popularity of drones for personal use continues to increase, most of the people who have bought them are sensible folks who have registered their vehicles with the FAA (in the U.S.) and other authorities elsewhere. They respect the rules that have been laid down for them to operate — fly below 400 feet (recently increased by the FAA from 200 feet), don’t fly over populated areas or people, and especially stay away from airports and the departure and approach paths for regular aircraft.
By Tony Murfin
So it’s especially troublesome for these law-abiding drone owners when a wildcat operator gets into the approach path at an airport — and it’s really bad if that airport happens to be one of the busiest in the U.S.
Unfortunately there are several examples. For instance, a Lufthansa A380 pilot recently reported that a drone passed approximately 200 feet above the huge A-380 aircraft he was flying while it was at 5,000 feet altitude on approach into LAX (Los Angeles airport). The FAA immediately got on the phone to the Los Angeles Police Department responsible for air support.
Just last week, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was reported to have struck a British Airways Airbus as it descended into London’s Heathrow Airport.
The increase in drones might be compared to an increase in the bird population, and a recent study concluded that the risk to the airspace caused by single, light-weight drones is probably quite low. The figures also seem to say that the probability of bird-strikes is very low — but tell that to Captain Sullenberger who landed a smaller A-320 in the Hudson River when both engines quit after ingesting geese just after take-off.
It seems that good airmanship and eyesight have so far avoided any drones being sucked into commercial aircraft engines — no thanks to a small number of irresponsible drone flyers who are tempting fate by intruding into “no-go” airspace.