British Airways Drone Strike, How worried should we be?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 was on Fox Happening Now with @JonScottFNC 11:30am ET, discussing “British Airways Drone Strike, How worried should we be?” with Aviation expert, Mike Boyd of Boyd Group International. Watch Video Clip Here: youtu.be/BXnJ4IMbOzQ

Photo Credit: The Daily Mirror (UK), British Airways Airbus A320 Flight BA727, carrying 132 passengers and five flight crew, as it comes into land at Heathrow Airport last Sunday after being hit by a suspected Drone about 1,700 feet above ground proximity.

Officials say “they are treating the incident as an endangerment of an aircraft under Article 137 Air Navigation Order 2009,” after the plane was believed to be struck by a Drone at 12.38pm on Sunday, April 17, 2016. The flight landed safely with no passengers and crew injured.

“British Airways said the aircraft was examined by engineers and cleared for its next flight following the incident.

It is thought to be the first time in the world a drone has crashed into a commercial jet during landing.” — The Daily Mirror (UK), April 18, 2016

“Focusing on public-awareness campaigns to educate Drone users,” says US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the US Federal Aviation Administration’s “Know Before You Fly” campaign stipulates the public follow these safety do’s and don’t’s in operating Drones near an airport. Specifically, the federal safety agency aims to educate the public on “What can I do with my Drone?

Similar types of rules in the skies on operating Drones are stipulated by the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The FAA under the Obama administration has further mandated that all Drones operated either for recreational or commercial use be registered with the federal aviation safety agency prior to operational use.

For example, the FAA defines using an Unmanned Aircraft System or a Drone to take photos for your personal use is recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a non-recreational operation or commercial use — which then, classifies the Drone as a commercial civil aircraft, operating in the National Airspace System under the authority of the FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The British CAA has followed suite in such rule-making stipulations on Drone operations as the US FAA.

Bottom-line: Here’s the FAA registration requirement:

Anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft or Drone that weighs more than 0.55 lbs. (250g) and less than 55 lbs. (25kg) must register with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Drone registry before they fly outdoors. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties.

Who must register a Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Drone?

The owner must be:
  • 13 years of age or older. (If the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the small unmanned aircraft.)
  • A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

Drone or Model Aircraft Operations Limits under FAA’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

“Do’s”

  • Do register your aircraft if it weighs more than 0.55 lbs.
  • Do fly a model aircraft/UAS/Drone at the local model aircraft club
  • Do take lessons and learn to fly safely
  • Do contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of the airport
  • Do fly a model aircraft or Drone for personal enjoyment

Don’ts

  • Don’t fly near manned aircraft
  • Don’t fly beyond line of sight of the operator
  • Don’t fly an aircraft weighing more than 55 lbs unless it’s certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
  • Don’t fly contrary to your aeromodeling community-based safety guidelines
  • Don’t fly model aircraft or Drone for payment or commercial purposes

Here’s a great infographic outlining the above “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” for the Drone Flying Public

Drone near-misses in the UK and US in 2015

There were 23 near-misses between aircraft and drones in just six months, according to British CAA aviation investigators.

The UK Airprox Board (UKAB) has published reports on the incidents, which took place between April 11 and October 4 last year in 2015.

U.S. officials in establishing its Drone operations registration system in 2015 — ”had to take swift action to cope with a surge in sales of inexpensive, simple-to-fly drones that are interfering with regular air traffic,” said The Washington Post.

“The signal we’re sending today is that when you’re in the national airspace, it’s a very serious matter,” US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters last year.

Pilots of passenger planes and other aircraft are reporting more than 100 sightings of or close calls with rogue Drones a month, according to the FAA. Such incidents were almost unheard of before last year, but have escalated quickly, as the consumer Drone market has boomed. U.S. hobbyists are projected to buy about 700,000 Drones this year, a 63 percent increase from 2014.

Experts foresee the civil aviation airspace getting very crowded in the next several decades with the growth of Drone operations in future with package delivery services proposed by Amazon, UPS, and FedEx, and with the hyper-escalating Google vs Facebook Internet war, filling our skies full of Drones, to carry the internet into the farthest remote regions of the world.

Right now 99 percent of our global internet is carried by cables on the transatlantic, transpacific and transpolar oceanic floor. However, going forward in the next several decades, it’s not only just about “Drone Black-Boxes in the Cloud,” but also these “Drone Black-Boxes may be in the Ocean” too!

When a Drone Hits a Jetliner, what could happen causing a safety breach:

  • FOD (Foreign Object Damage) in one of the engines: an Airbus A320 or Boeing 777 is a two-engine (either GE90 class or Rolls-Royce Trent 800 class) jetliners. Suppose the unlikely event that a Drone is sucked in by one of the two engines. The most obvious catastrophe would be loss or significant reduction of thrust in the damaged engine, or perhaps, an engine fire.
  • Drones collide into aircraft’s wing, tail section and/or flight control surfaces: Depending on the extent of the damage, a Drone collision into an airliner’s wing or tail section could significantly destabilize the approach and landing of a large jetliner or small aircraft, causing plane wreckage and debris to be broken apart, or significant debris damage of the control surfaces, with consequent reduction of lift generated by the wing, instability and/or inability to move the control surface (imagine Drone parts being stuck between ailerons, flaps, and flaperons etc.).
  • Drone makes a head-on collision into the frontal nose airframe, or worse, the cockpit windshield, causing a severe crack or further windshield breakage: Drone debris could crack damage or even destroy the cockpit windshield, which catastrophically could enter the cockpit injuring or killing the pilots (of course, this depends on the size of the Drone and the airliner airspeed upon approach and landing at the time of such a Drone-jetliner mid-air collision.
  • Impact with another part of the airframe: If the drone hit other, less critical parts of the plane, it could damage sensors, antennas and other equipment that feeds the flight data computer, resulting in a lack of information to the aircrew.
  • Pilot Distraction and Human Factors Errors Resulting from Sudden Shock of Drone Collision: If the cockpit crew sees a Drone coming close to the Airbus A320 or Boeing 777 airliner, they will obviously divert their attention towards the collided Drone with a consequent loss of situational awareness of the digital glass cockpit controls. This can be dangerous, especially if it happens while landing the jetliner at very low altitude (say at about 1,700 feet above ground proximity like in the case of British Airways Airbus A320 Flight BA727, carrying 132 passengers and five flight crew), or especially if the Drone strike occurs at night or during in-climate stormy weather.

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Oliver McGee is an aerospace, mechanical, and civil engineer, and author of seven books on Amazon. He is former United States deputy assistant secretary of transportation for technology policy (1999–2001) in the Clinton Administration, and former senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1997–1999).

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