Drones – An Rising Threat

With the increased, unregulated, drone activity we are coming up to the point that is not about “how”, is about “when” an accident will happen.


This year, there was a near-miss with an unidentified drone when it came close to hit an Airbus 320 at Heathrow airport, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has confirmed.
The Airbus A320 pilot reported seeing a helicopter-style drone at 700 feet AGL during its approach to the runway at 1416 GMT on 22 July.

The CAA has not disclosed the airline or how close the drone came to the aircraft.
The CAA has given the incident an “A” rating, meaning a “serious risk of collision”.
Investigators were unable to identify the drone, which did not appear on air traffic control radar and disappeared after the encounter.

In another incident, on May, the pilot of an ATR 72 reported seeing a helicopter drone only 80 feet away as he approached Southend airport at a height of 1,500 feet.
These incidents have prompted a warning from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) that the rapid increase in the number of drones operated by amateur enthusiasts now poses “a real risk” to commercial aircraft.

The association’s general secretary, Jim McAuslan said; “The risk of a 10 kilogram object hitting a plane is a real one that pilots are very concerned about”.
“A small drone could be a risky distraction for a pilot coming into land and cause serious damage if they hit one.”

Sales of drones have increased rapidly, with UK sales running at a rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 every month.

They are expected to be very popular as Christmas presents.

They cost as little as £35 for a smaller model – more advanced drones capable of carrying a high definition camera and travelling at 45 miles per hour cost almost £3,000.
Only a very small minority of people operating drones have attended training courses in how to fly them.

A spokesman for the CAA said it had to depend on people using their common sense when they operated drones.

He said the current level of risk should be “kept in perspective” but warned that breaking laws governing the use of drones could potentially threaten commercial aircraft.
“People using unmanned aircraft need to think, use common sense and take responsibility for them”, he said.

“There are rules which have the force of law and have to be followed.”

Drones may not be flown higher than 400 feet or further than 500 metres from the operator, and they must not go within 50 metres of people, vehicles or buildings.

There are exclusion zones around airports and the approaches to them for drones weighing more than seven kilograms.

Mr McAuslan said there was an urgent need for rules to be tightened before much larger unmanned cargo planes – potentially the size of a Boeing 737 – took to the skies.

Capt. Ivan

FAA and Drones – Incident Case Study.

An US Airways Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft almost collided with a drone above Florida earlier this year, a near-accident that rise concerns about the growing risk from increased use of unmanned aircraft, said Jim Williams, head of the unmanned-aircraft office at the Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. Williams revealed the incident publicly at a conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

US Airways Flight 4650 from Charlotte, N.C., was approaching Tallahassee airport descending through 2,300 feet and about five miles from the airport when it encountered the drone, which the pilot described “as a camouflaged F-4 fixed-wing aircraft that was quite small.” The remote controlled jet was more similar to a model aircraft flown by hobbyists rather than a so-called quadcopter that many see as the type of unmanned aircraft with commercial potential.

“The airplane pilot said that the drone was so close to his jet that he was sure he had collided with it,”
The CRJ did not appear to be damaged when it was inspected after the March 22 incident, Williams said.
But the incident served to highlight the risk of remote-control aircraft, he said.

“The risk for a small UAS to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real,” Williams said. “The results could be catastrophic.”

The FAA currently bans the commercial use of drones in the United States and is under growing pressure to set rules that would permit their broader use. Hobby and many law-enforcement uses are permitted.
Last year, the agency began establishing test sites where businesses can try out commercial uses. Two of the centers have started working ahead of schedule.

“The FAA is working aggressively to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace,” the agency said in a statement.

The March incident was reported to the Tallahassee control tower by the pilot for Bluestreak Airlines, a US Airways commuter carrier. US Airways is part of American Airlines.

The FAA investigated but could not identify the pilot of the drone.
During the conference at the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo in San Francisco, Williams also showed videos of several drone accidents, including one in which a drone crashed into a crowd during the running of the bulls in Richmond, Virginia, last fall.

Capt. Ivan

Photo: File – Wikipedia


First they came for the FE and we didn’t speak up and now, they are coming for us…

The clock is already ticking to the end of the traditional cockpit as we used to know it.  I am talking about commercial airliners with ONE pilot.

I know this is going to bring a huge controversy in the aviation community and flying public, but airlines are striving to reduce operating costs on every aspect and that includes the pilots on the flight deck.

The European Commission and a consortium integrated by 35 companies led by avionics maker Thales, counting among others to Airbus & Boeing is funding a project named ACROSSAdvanced Cockpit for Reduction of Stress & Workload.

The project involves three phases, first one is to “to develop, integrate and test new cockpit solutions that facilitate the management of peak workload situations that can occur during a flight, in order to improve safety and ensure the reduction of accident risks through the reduction of stress.”  Second one is to explore new equipment designed to permit reduced crew operationsunder certain conditions, such as long range cruise, this phase will include also explore certain pilot aids designed to reduce pilot workload in the case the second pilot become incapacitated, or fly the airplane to a safe landing in the event that both pilots become incapacitated.  Third phase will be identify open issues that prevent implementation of single pilot airline operations.

Up to this point we start wondering, who is going to sign a document allowing single pilot operations? What the Pilot’s Unions are going to say? The Copilot, will then be on the ground? Will the flying public feel safe to board an aircraft with only one pilot in the front?

Obviously, implementation of a program of this nature will not be done from one week to another; basically, they need to design aircraft’s cockpit systems capable of being operated by a single pilot, like certain light turboprops and business jets.

Actual automation level is not far from that, a few days ago a turboprop flew over the U.K. without a pilot and what about the drone’s technology? 

Someone can say, what about the trains? – They are commanded by a single train operator and carry as much as 5 long haul airliners.  True, but trains move over the earth surface, in only two dimensions, in a fixed railroad.  Aircrafts move in three dimensions, freely in an air ocean and are well affected by variables depending on weather conditions, mainly enroute.

Too many questions, but the clock is already ticking.

A website for the ACROSS program is scheduled for launch in July, but in the meantime you can see a presentation here

Author:  Capt. Ivan

  •   GDL 39