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Researchers release report on drone airborne collisions
29 November 2017

Researchers release report on drone airborne collisions

A research team from the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) released a report that concludes that drones that collide with large manned aircraft can cause more structural damage than birds of the same weight for a given impact speed.

ASSURE conducted its research with two different types of drones on two types of aircraft through computer modeling and physical validation testing.
Unlike the soft mass and tissue of birds, most drones are made of more rigid materials. The testing showed that the stiffest components of the drone – such as the motor, battery and payload – can cause the most damage. Concentrating those masses on the drone can also cause greater damage, the researchers found.
The research team evaluated the potential impacts of a 2.7-lb. quadcopter and 4 lb. quadcopter; and a 4-lb. and 8-lb. fixed wing drone on a single-aisle commercial transport jet and a business jet. They examined impacts to the wing leading edge, the windshield, and the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. The windshields generally sustained the least damage and the horizontal stabilizers suffered the most serious damage.
The structural damage severity levels ranged from no damage to failure of the primary structure and penetration of the drone into the airframe. However, the research specifically did not explore the risk to flight imposed by that damage. The researchers concluded that unmanned aircraft system manufacturers should adopt “detect and avoid” or “geo-fencing” capabilities to reduce the probability of collisions with other aircraft.
The team conducted a preliminary computer simulation to evaluate the potential damage to engine components if a drone is ingested into an aircraft engine, including damage to fan blades, the nacelle and the nosecone. They plan future additional research on engine ingestion in collaboration with engine manufacturers, as well as additional airborne collision studies with helicopters and general aviation aircraft.
In 2014 Congress directed the FAA to establish a UAS Center of Excellence. The FAA selected ASSURE, led by Mississippi State University, in May 2015.

More information:

UK Airprox Board (UKAB) notes rise in aircraft-drone encounters in 2016

UK Airprox Numbers – non-SUAS 20-year Trend

The UK Airprox Board (UKAB) published their annual report over 2016. UKAB assessed 265 Airprox in 2016, of which 171 were aircraft-to-aircraft encounters and 94 involved drones/small unmanned air systems (SUAS).

The number of aircraft-to-aircraft encounters was similar to 2015 (when 177 incidents were reported) but the number of drone/SUAS encounters more than doubled compared to 2015 (there were 40 drone/SUAS incidents in 2015).

Of the 171 aircraft-to-aircraft incidents, 58 (34%) were assessed as risk-bearing events where safety was not assured (Risk Categories A & B). This represents a decrease compared to 2015 (when there were 177 overall aircraft-to-aircraft notifications with 79 (45%) risk-bearing outcomes).

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Eurocontrol publishes update of European Action Plan for the Prevention of Runway Incursions

Eurocontrol published an update of the European Action Plan for the Prevention of Runway Incursions (EAPPRI v 3.0).

Despite widespread implementation of the recommendations contained in the previous EAPPRI versions, the number of runway incursions affecting European and global airports remains a significant safety concern, Eurocontrol reports. The update v3.0 of the plan contains modifications to some existing recommendations to re-focus and re-energise ongoing actions being taken across the aviation industry to prevent runway incursions. In particular, EAPPRI v3.0 challenges the aviation industry to review the effectiveness of systemic runway incursion risk reduction activities associated with Safety Management Systems (SMS) and aerodrome local Runway Safety Teams.

The updated plan also contains a number of new recommendations. These range from new measures to enhance the safety of airside drivers who need to access runways through to facilitating air traffic controllers’ ‘heads up’ scanning so that, as far as practicable, they can maintain a continuous watch of aerodrome operations. Furthermore, there are recommendations encouraging State authorities to establish national runway safety teams and for the industry to move towards the graphical display of safety critical aerodrome information to pilots to improve their situational awareness.

U.K. Government releases results of drone / aircraft mid air collision damage study

The U.K. Government released the results of a drone / aircraft mid air collision study.

The study was commissioned by the U.K. Department for Transport, the Military Aviation Authority and British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) to determine effects of a mid-air collision between small remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, commonly known as a drones) and manned aircraft. The study was conducted by QinetiQ and Natural Impacts using laboratory collision testing and computer modelling.

The study aimed to find the lowest speed at collision where critical damage could occur to aircraft components. Critical damage was defined in this study to mean major structural damage of the aircraft component or penetration of drone through the windscreen into the cockpit.

The study has indicated that:

  • Non-birdstrike certified helicopter windscreens have very limited resilience to the impact of a drone, well below normal cruise speeds.
  • The non-birdstrike certified helicopter windscreen results can also be applied to general aviation aeroplanes which also do not have a birdstrike certification requirement.
  • Although the birdstrike certified windscreens tested had greater resistance than non-birdstrike certified, they could still be critically damaged at normal cruise speeds.
  • Helicopter tail rotors are also very vulnerable to the impact of a drone, with modelling showing blade failures from impacts with the smaller drone components tested.
  • Airliner windscreens are much more resistant, however, the study showed that there is a risk of critical windscreen damage under certain impact conditions:
    * It was found that critical damage did not occur at high, but realistic impact speeds, with the 1.2 kg class drone components.
    * However, critical damage did occur to the airliner windscreens at high, but realistic, impact speeds, with the 4 kg class drone components used in this study.
  • The construction of the drone plays a significant role in the impact of a collision. Notably, the 400 g class drone components, which included exposed metal motors, caused critical failure of the helicopter windscreens at lower speeds than the 1.2 kg class drone components, which had plastic covering over their motors. This is believed to have absorbed some of the shock of the collision, reducing the impact.
  • The testing and modelling showed that the drone components used can cause significantly more damage than birds of equivalent masses at speeds lower than required to meet birdstrike certification standards.

More information:

Audit: FAA needs to enhance its flight deck vulnerabilities mitigation efforts

According to an audit, the U.S. FAA has taken steps to identify flight deck vulnerabilities but needs to enhance its mitigation efforts.
In the wake of the pilot-suicide crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in March 2015, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein requested that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluate the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of commercial airline flight deck safety. The audit objectives were to assess the effectiveness of FAA’s actions to (1) identify vulnerabilities to flight deck security, and (2) mitigate identified flight deck vulnerabilities.
The OIG made six recommendations to the FAA to improve cockpit safety and security; FAA concurred with three recommendations, partially concurred with one recommendation, and non-concurred with two recommendations. We are requesting that FAA reconsider its response for two recommendations.
The Department of Transportation has determined that this OIG report contains sensitive security information (SSI) and will therefore not be disclosed to the public.

AAIB and BEA issue annual safety reviews

The U.K. AAIB Annual Safety Review for 2016 contains information on the activity during 2016 and includes an overview of the 57 Safety Recommendations and Safety Actions published in the 36 field and 208 correspondence investigation reports during the year.

It also includes information on the occurrence factors established from the AAIB investigations, with articles on the AAIB’s use of simulators and drones in accident investigation.

The French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) similarly published their annual report for 2016. During 2016 a total of 116 investigations were opened and 46 Safety Recommendations were issued.


Canadian committee recommends mandatory use of SMS for all commercial operators

A Canadian Parliament Committee issued a report to the federal government with 17 recommendations, aimed at enhancing aviation safety in Canada.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities heard 47 witnesses and received 11 briefs, leading to a report with 17 safety recommendations.


Notably the Committee recommends the mandatory implementation of a Safety Management System for all commercial operators in Canada, including the air taxi sector. Also, the federal government is urged to implement the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendation on 300-metre runway end safety areas.


  1. That Transport Canada use its proposed regulation for fatigue management, based on scientific evidence and with safety as a primary concern, for the purpose of soliciting comment and advice, while pursuing consultation with stakeholders, in order to find ways to take into account the specific operating conditions of certain regions.
  2. That Transport Canada review Interim Order No. 5 Respecting Flight Deck Occupants in consultation with stakeholders to ensure it is fulfilling its objectives.
  3. That the federal government revise the 50:1 passenger to flight attendant ratio in consultation with stakeholders and experts on flight attendant ratios, while keeping the security of Canadians as a top priority.
  4. That the Minister of Transport examine best practices for flight training, striking a balance between in flight and simulator based training and certification for pilots. And that in his study, the Minister take into account recent technological advances, as well as seek input from industry and pilot associations.
  5. That Transport Canada reviews its decision to allow Transport Canada and Transportation Safety Board pilots to renew flight certifications using only simulators.
  6. That the implementation of a Safety Management System becomes mandatory for all commercial operators, including the air taxi sector.
  7. That Transport Canada:
    a. establish targets to ensure more on-site safety inspections versus Safety Management System audits;
    b. use poor results from Safety Management System audits (including whistleblower input) as a ‘flag’ for prioritizing on-site inspections;
    c. Review whistleblower policies to ensure adequate protection for people who raise safety issues to foster open, transparent and timely disclosure of safety concerns.
  8. That the government make sure that Safety Management Systems are accompanied by an effective, properly financed, adequately staffed system of regulatory oversight: monitoring, surveillance and enforcement supported by sufficient, appropriately trained staff.
  9. That Transport Canada review all training processes and training materials for civil aviation inspectors to ensure they have the resources to perform their duties effectively.
  10. That Transport Canada establish an expedited process for responding to Transportation Safety Board of Canada air safety related recommendations, including the backlog, and that an enhanced reporting system be adopted to prevent recommendations from languishing, without action, on the Transportation Safety Board Active Recommendations list regarding aviation.
  11. That Transport Canada invite the International Civil Aviation Organization to conduct a comprehensive audit of Canada’s civil aviation oversight system.
  12. That Transport Canada undertake an air safety review and report its findings back to Parliament.
  13. That the federal government produce an annual compliance report on Transport Canada’s implementation of any measures identified in the audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  14. That the federal government implement the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and International Civil Aviation Organization recommendation on 300-metre runway end safety areas.
  15. That Transport Canada examine the various security databases upon which security clearances rely to ensure they are as current as possible.
  16. That the government increase the financing of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, in particular by making sure that the revenues from the fees paid by travelers are allocated to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
  17. That Transport Canada develop a plan and a timeline to address the specific operating conditions and infrastructure needs of airlines serving Northern Canada and small airports.


Portugal starts study on near miss incidents involving drones

The Portuguese Office for the Prevention and Investigation of Aircraft Accidents and Rail Accidents (GPIAAF) announced that they will initiate a study relating to the operation of drones in the country’s airspace.

Reason for the study is the amount of near miss incidents between drones and aircraft in the country. The study will addres the following aspects:

  1. Characterization of the history of incidents in Portugal involving the proximity of drones to manned aircraft;
  2.  Characterization of drones and applicable legislation;
  3. Operational practices in the air and on land when sighting a drone in a restricted area;
  4. Dissemination and training programs for drone users;
  5. Perception of key stakeholders as to the adequacy and effectiveness of legislation and regulation;
  6. Review of international practices and experiences in this area;
  7. Review of recommendations issued by research organizations;
  8. Possible preparation of recommendations for prevention of this type of occurrences.

More information:

EASA publishes Annual Safety Review of 2016

EASA published their ‘Annual Safety Review 2017’, covering the year 2016.

The only fatal accident in Commercial Air Transport aeroplane airline operations in 2016 that involved an EASA Member State operator was the accident of a Canadair CRJ-200 performing a cargo flight on 8 January 2016. EASA reports a lower number of non-fatal accidents involving Member State operators in 2016 than the 10-year average, with 16 accidents compared to the average of 23.1 over the previous 10 years. At the same time, there was a 36% increase in the number of serious incidents over the same period resulting in a total of 106 serious incidents compared with the average of 78.2. In terms of fatalities, the single fatal accident resulted in 2 fatalities (the flight crew, the only occupants of the aeroplane), which is much lower than the 10 year average.
There was also a slight decrease in serious injuries with 9 serious injuries compared with 10 over the previous 10 years.

More information:


ASN releases drone near-miss database

The Aviation Safety Network today released the ASN Drone Database, containing over 2800 reports of unmanned aircraft (UAS) sightings from pilots and airprox occurrences involving UAS and aircraft. The types of UAS covered include consumer and professional helicopter type drones, larger military fixed wing (reconnaissance) drones, and model aircraft.

Most of the data has been sourced from official government agencies, like the U.S. FAA, Transport Canada, and the UK Airprox Board. The data has been structured and enriched so it can be easily filtered by among others aircraft type involved, altitude, estimated separation distance.

The database includes eight cases of suspected and confirmed UAS collisions with aircraft and 73 cases in which an evasive manoeuvre had to be carried out by a pilot to avoid colliding with a drone.

The database is available for download as .CSV (spreadsheet) and .PDF (document) files.