Tuesday 6 December 2016

'It's inevitable.... there are a lot of idiots out there' - Drone specialist says only a matter of time before serious plane accident

Published 23/11/2016 | 13:34

Drone (stock image)
Drone (stock image)

A leading drone operator has warned that it is only a matter of time before a drone causes a serious accident with an aircraft.

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Steve Slade, CEO of SkyTec Ireland, said that the number of people using drones without proper training is a cause for concern.

“Unfortunately, I think it is inevitable. There are a lot of idiots out there who are flying with no training and without insurance.

“For example, someone was using a drone at the end of the runway in Stanford taking pictures a couple of years ago. They get a drone for Christmas and think they’re great, but they haven’t a clue about aviation law,” Mr Slade told Independent.ie.

Recently, there have been a number of near misses involving drones and planes in Ireland and the UK.

Last week, a passenger jet taking off at Liverpool airport narrowly avoided a collision with a drone that came within 5 metres of the aircraft’s wingtip.

A drone also "narrowly avoided" crashing into a passenger plane which had 165 passengers on board as it flew near The Shard in London while approaching Heathrow Airport.

Mr Slade says if a drone comes into contact with a plane, it would cause significant damage.

“The tiny ones would just bounce off the plane and not do a lot of damage. However, the ones that weigh up to 15 kilos are another matter altogether.

“If a drone gets sucked into an aircraft, the battery in the drone is going to explode. If that happens, that’s the engine destroyed.

“If a drone strikes a part of the aircraft, such as the wing or fin, it will have a malfunction. Pilots are trained to deal with this but you just don’t know what could happen,” he added.

Cork Airport was the first Irish airport to launch a ‘no drone zone’ as part of a crackdown on rogue drone operators this year.

It is illegal to operate a drone within 4.5km of an airfield.

Alec Elliott of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) says they have implemented procedures to try and prevent the likelihood of an accident. 

“There is always the potential for drones to pose a danger to aircraft, and as such the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has led the field in terms of measures to prevent such happening.

“In December 2015, the IAA introduced the Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order, which was designed to regulate this environment for the benefit of drone operators and the public alike,” he told Independent.ie.

With Christmas approaching, Mr Elliott has this advice for anyone who has a drone on their Christmas wish list.

“We strongly encourage people to take a drone users course in order to help ensure that they operate their drone in a safe manner and in compliance with the regulations.”

Over 6,000 drones are currently registered with the IAA.

Near misses

Earlier this year, Aer Lingus claimed its aircrafts had six near misses with drones in the space of twelve months.

Incidents of near misses have increased year-on-year in both Ireland and the UK.

The European Parliament recently proposed  that unmanned drones of over 250 grams must be registered, following a number of incidents involving lightweight drones and passenger aircraft.

Ireland South MEP and member of the EU Transport Committee Deirdre Clune welcomed the plans.

“This is a concern for Dublin, Shannon, Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Knock airports. Falling technology costs have made drones widely accessible. Right now, they can be bought for under €50.

“These proposals widen the net of registration, and more importantly, ensure that people operating drones in our public spaces have the necessary skills needed to fly the drone properly.”

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