The FAA has recently conducted research that highlights how dangerous drone collisions are to airplanes. The research found that a collision between an airplane and a bird is far less dangerous than a collision between an airplane and a drone. The animation that researchers created to showcase their results indicate that drone collisions can cause extreme damage to an airplane’s tail or engine; this is important, because the FAA gets around 250 reports of drones trespassing in the skies near airports monthly.
Aviation professionals have been saying that heavy metal-and-plastic drones are likely a much larger threat to aircraft than a single bird for years. It is interesting to see these claims, because there have been many instances of birds posing threats to aircraft during flights—including the Miracle on the Hudson flight, which had several birds collide with an aircraft’s engine leading to it stopping.
The FAA’s research, then, simply confirms what these professionals have been saying for ages: drones are extremely dangerous to airplanes and pose a much bigger threat to safety than birds do.
Many pilots who operate outside of airport zones are also worried. For example, police departments all over the world often use helicopters, especially in urban settings. The LAPD uses helicopters in their work, and because helicopters fly low to the ground very quickly, pilots have to always be on the lookout for drones.
Kevin Cook, a pilot for the LAPD, emphasizes the danger of drones around helicopters. In reality, a helicopter weighs nearly two-and-a-half tons and carries over 100 gallons of fuel, and if the helicopter hits a drone then all of that will come crashing down.
Drone threats to pilot safety hit home for the LAPD, because in August of 2015, a helicopter nearly collided with a drone that was flying nearby. The helicopter pilot had to dive to prevent a collision, and the drone pilot was taken to court for their actions.
The FAA animation highlights two different scenarios of drone collisions: one involves a drone hitting a jet engine and breaks the blades, and the other shows how a drone collision can affect the tail of the plane.
Overall, the FAA found that bird collisions were consistently less damaging than if a drone of the same weight hit the plane—keep in mind that we already know how damaging bird collisions are to planes. This information is particularly worrying, because planes close to the ground are the most likely to be hit by a drone.
When planes are close to the ground, they are usually about to takeoff or land. Most drone pilots would fly at those altitudes, and colliding with a plane during these flight procedures could prove extremely dangerous to everyone involved.
Let’s not forget the drone batteries, which pose an additional set of threats on their own. The lithium ion batteries were found to shatter during some collisions, but if left in tact after the initial impact, the battery temperature rises and can be a fire hazard to the plane. No wonder drones are not allowed to fly higher than 400 ft, or within five miles of airport airspace!