For the first time in history a drone has hit an airplane. On April 18, flight BA727 from Geneva to London was landing at Heathrow when it was struck by a drone. The airplane and its 132 passengers landed safely. The drone, we can presume, was destroyed on impact as its debris has not been found. While the incident may seem small, airport authorities find it deeply concerning as such a crash may have much more serious consequences. This is the first time that these two objects crashed, but close encounters between aircraft and drones are numerous. Airprox Board tracked 23 close encounters between drones and airplanes in the UK between April and October 2015. Of those, in 12 there was a risk of collision. In the US, Bard College did a similar analysis and identified 921 cases of drone and aircraft encounters between December 2013 and September 2015. In this case, 327 of these incidents were less than 150 m from the aircraft and many of which occurred in areas where drone use is actually prohibited. Sadly, there are very few studies of this kind in other parts of the world thus we do not have sufficient information on how often this happens, but some fear this problem will only increase as drones become increasingly commonplace.
After the crash, the House of Lords EU Committee called for stronger regulations including mandatory registration. Drone technology is growing at an accelerated pace but, as in other matters regarding technologic development, regulations have fallen behind. So far, few countries have implemented “drone laws” and the few that have are very different and are prone to change. The UK, for instance, bans drones from flying above 122 m, less than 50 m from a person or vehicle, and 150 m from a congested area such as a park. It also bans drones from flying close to airports and airplanes.
The US does not have an overall regulation on the use of drones although some cities have passed local legislation that limits their use, and other cities have shown interest in passing similar laws. However, the FAA does prohibit flying drones near airports, 8 km in this case, and is pushing forward mandatory registration of all drones.
In Mexico, last year the General Direction of Civil Aviation (DGAC) stablished legislation for the use of drones stating that all drones under 2 kg do not need any authorization, nor do those between 2 and 25 kg used for recreational use. However, drones over 25 kg have to be registered under the General Adjunct Direction of Transport and Aeronautic Control and receive a Remote Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) authorization before use. All drones are also restricted 9.2 km away from mayor airports, 3.7 km from smaller airports, and 0.9 km from heliports. The previous regulations are for personal use only, as commercial use requires further permits.
While regulation may seem over the top, their soon to be nearly ubiquitous presence asks for certain rules to ensure safety. If you are planning to buy a drone, or have recently purchased one, don’t forget to check local regulations to avoid fines or worse consequences.
Sources: CNN, the Telegraph, US News, FAA, and SCT.
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