It’s been established already that drone sightings are increasing and it’s raising fear of collisions. These fears are anything but unfounded. BBC News is reporting now that the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) confirmed that an amateur drone pilot almost hit an Airbus A320 on July 22nd as it was landing at Heathrow Airport. There were 180 people on board.
The CAA gave the incident an A rating, which means that there was a “serious risk of collision.” The drone in question was small and helicopter -like, and supposedly appeared about 700 feet above the tarmac as the plane was touching down. Investigators were never able to track down the pilot.
Now, it doesn’t really seem like a small drone, no matter how helicopter-like it was, could do any significant damage to an Airbus A320.
Something huge like that seems like it would just rip through even a commercial drone like paper. But you’d only be partially correct. An Airbus A320 would absolutely break a drone into pieces without a problem. The problem is what happens to all that drone shrapnel. David Cenciotti, a former pilot and member of the Italian Air Force, sat down with Gizmodo back in March to talk about that.
The best case scenario is that if the aircraft comes into contact with a drone at cruising speed and no parts are ingested in to the engine/engines, minor to major damage is done to the fuselage, emergency landing procedures are implemented, and the plane lands safely.
Middle of the road: engine is damaged in-flight, that engine is shut down, and since the 747 has quad redundancy there are still 3 engines with which the aircraft can use to safely land (with potential damage to the airframe).
Worst case—and this would take all the bad juju out there in the universe: Drone ingested into engine. Blades from engine shoot out and destroy other engine on same wing and also cuts through fuel supply lines in the wing as well as hydraulic supply lines. There are procedures to cut fuel supply, but hydraulic power is required to get these valves to shut. Even with a systemic failure like this, the plane could still land safely.
We can all breathe a little easier knowing that even with amateur drone pilots being dumb in airport airspace and flying their drones just a bit too close, passenger plane engines have enough safety features and redundancies to land safely even if something goes terribly wrong.
Takeoffs and landings are by far the more vulnerable parts of any flight no matter what you’re flying, and both things require that everything goes smoothly. If something happens, if some spanner in the works throws a wrench anywhere, the entire operation could fall apart. Whoever this amateur pilot is, they’re kind of a dumb dummy and people like that will be the reason we can’t have nice things, like drone flying as a new, cool, stress relieving hobby.