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Ep.10 – Drone vs Aircraft

Author: Brent Fishlock

As an aircraft approached Quebec City, the aircraft was cleared for a visual approach to Runway 24. On final approach, the flight crew observed a drone, about the size of a dinner plate, in front of the left wing. The pilot had no time to take evasive action. The impact was unavoidable, and the drone disintegrated. The wing was slightly damaged, and the aircraft landed safely. (This example is taken directly from the Transportation Safety Board’s report into the October 2017 occurrence.)

Drones, UAVs, unmanned aircraft vehicles, sUAS or small unmanned aircraft systems—whichever your preferred name, drones have grown in popularity at an alarming rate. Regulators are trying to keep up with the sheer number of drones, and some users are flying them wherever they want, perhaps not realizing the consequences. A recently filmed video surfaced online of a drone take off in Las Vegas, ascend straight up, and then film an airliner fly by directly underneath it in the landing configuration. The airliner was very close to the ground. The authorities are apparently searching for the film maker.


  • Drones were first deployed by the US army in 1940 for defense during World War II.
  • Israel is said to have deployed drones in 1982 against Syria.
  • In 1995, the US reused a version called the MQ-1 Predator UAV.
  • In 2010, a France-based company combined a drone with a smartphone and created a smartphone-controlled quadcopter.
  • In 2012, the American Congress, as a result of increased drone use, instructed the FAA to integrate small drones into the national airspace by 2015.
  • In 2013, Jeff Bezos of Amazon unveiled a plan to deliver products using drones and announced an investment of $2 million to develop drone technology.
  • Companies such as Google, Intel, and GE are all invested in drones—they are coming in droves.


(The following information is from the US but can be easily extrapolated elsewhere.)

The FAA is expecting robust growth in the hobby drone sector. Registration numbers are now above one million drones, while the agency estimates the actual fleet size to be well above of 1.5 million. At the industry’s current pace, expectations are for the numbers to more than triple to 3.55 million by 2021 for an average annual growth rate of 26 percent.

The FAA expects the non-hobbyist or commercial fleet to grow at an even more rapid pace. In 2017, the number of commercially registered drones was over 100,000. The FAA expects growth in the commercial market by an annual average of 58 percent to 440,000 by 2021.


The King Air in Quebec City destroyed the drone with its wing, but this is no guarantee that this will be the norm. There are countless designs, sizes and weights of drones. Who’s to say which type of drone will be observing your aircraft?

In September 2018, the University of Dayton in Ohio did some research on drone impact with aircraft wings using their state-of-the-art cannon. The footage is extremely dramatic. The University launched a 2.1 pound quadcopter at the leading edge of a wing. The wing was from a light airplane, and I was unable to find anyone shooting drones at larger wings, but I think the point is still made. The drone penetrated the wing’s leading edge fully and completely. Some debris exited the bottom of the wing. Perhaps more surprising is that the drone also damaged the spar. The research facility has been doing bird strike tests on aircraft parts for 40 years and a spar has never been damaged in a bird strike test.

Other occurrences include:

  • In April 2016, an airliner was struck by a drone while landing at Heathrow in the UK.
  • In September 2017, a Black Hawk helicopter was struck by a drone over New York City which dented its rotor. The Black Hawk landed safely.
  • In June 2018, a Hughes 500 helicopter struck a drone while filming a road race in Mexico and on approach to its fuel cache. The helicopter’s tail rotor was damaged, forcing an emergency landing in the desert. The helicopter was trucked for repairs.

In the news:  

A second and revised NAT Ops Bulletin 2018_005 Rev 1 dated 13 February 2019 has added the New York Oceanic West OCA known as WATRS Airspace to the list of Oceanic Control Areas where the new oceanic contingency procedures became applicable on March 28, 2019. This was the subject of my last podcast, but when I recorded that podcast, the WATRS OCA was not included in the rule change. My podcast was based on the previous bulletin and NOT the revised one. Everything in that podcast is still correct.

The North Atlantic Systems Planning Group released a revised Bulletin numbered 2018_005  Revision ,1 which added WATRS to the new rule. This is effective now so ensure your crews are aware.

The new contingency procedure now applies to the following OCAs:

  • Gander (CZQX)
  • Shanwick (EGGX)
  • Santa Maria (LPPO)
  • Bodø (ENOB)
  • Reykjavik (BIRD)
  • Nuuk (BGGL), which is a new name for the area over Greenland previously called Sondrestrom
  • New York Oceanic East (which is included in the NAT), AND just added February 13th
  • New York Oceanic West (KZWY) or WATRS

Contingency procedures in other OCAs remain unchanged.

Please refer to the actual document. However, briefly, here are the basic differences in the procedures:

For a diversion or requirement to depart the track system such as a major degradation in navigation capability AND if an ATC clearance cannot be obtained:

  • Turn right or left away from the cleared track by be at least 30° (the other procedure is 45°).
  • Establish a 5 NM parallel offset from the cleared track (the other procedure is 15 NM).
  • ICAO strongly recommends to descend below FL290 prior to diverting.

For an in-flight weather deviation where a revised ATC clearance cannot be obtained, the differences include:

  • Maintain cleared flight level if the deviation is less than 5 NM (the prior procedure was 10 NM).
  • Otherwise, offset altitude at 5 NM up or down 300 feet as per the procedure.

If your flight will go through the NAT or New York WATRS to another Oceanic Control Area, you might have to be ready to use two different contingency procedures on the same flight based on where the emergency occurs. Ensure you are familiar with the OCA boundaries.

Bulletin 2018_005 Revision 1 released February 13th 2019 added WATRS airspace to this new contingency procedure.


The hobby drone industry itself is relatively new and is growing very fast.

There are some drones that have No-fly zone technology programmed into the drone itself which will keep it away from some airports; however, this technology can be turned off by a savvy operator.

There is a lot of online shaming going on that is aimed at those that post videos of illegal drone activities or anyone videoing aircraft using a drone.

I couldn’t find an association of drone users or makers, but there is good information out there for those responsible drone operators who want to know how to safely operate their drones.


Rule makers are having to work hard to catch up to the growth of the drone industry.

The FAA has instituted rules whereby visible identification numbers must be fixed to certain drones. It requires all registered UAS operators to display the registration number on the drone instead of inside a compartment. This as a good step forward in ensuring that all UASs are visibly marked.

The FAA also issued two rulemaking actions, one of which is a notice of proposed rulemaking to expand FAR Part 107 sUAS operations to include flight over people and operations at night. The proposal will require additional safety features before authorizing these types of operations.

Transport Canada has new rules effective June 1st. The exclusion zone around airports is 3 NM and 1 NM around heliports.

Some airports have geo-fencing around them, which is an invisible digital barrier that prevents remotely operated devices from entering the airport’s airspace. However, this is a small area, and aircraft are still vulnerable outside of this area. Hobby drones can fly as high as 11,000 feet in some cases. Current laws limit drone flying height to 400 or 500 feet; however, as was proven in the island of Mauritius last year, drone operators don’t always follow the rules. A drone operator parked his or her drone outside of the airports geo-fencing, well above 500 feet altitude and recorded an Emirates Airbus 380 taking off and flying right by. There is discussion online that the video is fake, but many video experts have evaluated the footage and believe that it is real. It’s doubtful the crew saw the drone as no manoeuvres were flown to avoid it.


While there will always be those that will break the law, we can educate everyone relevant to the situation that we come in contact with about the dangers of risky drone flying. We can also be extremely vigilant in our low-level scan in the terminal area.

I was riding in the back of an airliner about 10 years ago going into Denver. I was seated behind the wing. On final I noticed something stationary in the air below the aircraft. It was stationary but getting larger. I had never seen anything like that in the sky before and it got fairly close to the aircraft. After landing I waited until most people had deplaned and told a flight crew member what I saw. The pilot said there was a Remote Control club in that area.

Generally speaking, drone operators are supposed to register their drone, fly below 400 feet, keep the drone in sight, and abide by airspace regulations. There are also temporary flight restrictions for drones such as flying over large groups of people, near emergency responders, and wildfire suppression activity.

Many new regulations are coming out this year so hopefully education will help mitigate the risk of a collision. Keep your eyes open on approach.


In the news link:
NAT Ops Bulletin 2018_005 Rev 1

University of Dayton cannon test

A380 Mauritius island in the Indian Ocean

Las Vegas drone ABOVE landing aircraft

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