An accident waiting to happen

Our industry has worked hard to make midair collisions between commercial aircraft a thing of the past. But these days, reports on near-misses keep coming in, near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones. Pilots more and more often spot these remotely piloted aircraft (RPAS) during critical phases of flight: take-off and landing.

The selling numbers of these "toys" have exploded over the past year and I assume they will keep doing so over the months and years to come. Many parents will put a drone under the Christmas tree.

But if you have an interest on how they can be "abused", just a click away are numerous YouTube videos and many "first person views" that illustrate a breathtaking misunderstanding and underestimation of risks and possible consequences. Drones are flown over densely populated areas, clearly out of the visual line of sight, above clouds, at high altitudes, and close to airports. The race for the most spectacular and thoughtless clip is on and the numbers of clicks are rising!

But how can we prevent these dangerous situations from happening? How can we protect for example emergency rescue helicopters – which often fly at low altitude – from possible collisions with RPAS?

At the European Commission RPAS conference earlier this year in Riga the manufacturing industry presented many technically feasible solutions. No-fly zones, maximum height, maximum range and GSM-based flight recording were only a few. In their own interest this industry will now have to take the necessary steps before an accident happens.

Until these solutions are available, we have the collective responsibility to inform the public and both the national and European regulators about the rising risk of a midair collision. To do so, and to contribute to the drafting of future EU-wide safety rules for drones, ECA has just recently published a detailed position paper, with a special focus on the "open category" of drones – including these popular mini drones. ECA’s paper contains a large number of necessary steps and requirements that are a ‘must’ to ensure a safe operation. Until these are implemented by the regulators – and used in practice by the industry – there is only one thing that can help:

keep your eyes open!

by Dirk Polloczek