Airplane-Drone Near-Misses in the U.K. Have More Than Tripled in Two Years

A new study by the U.K. Airprox Board suggests that near-collisions between airplanes and drones have increased at an alarming rate.

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As the number of recreational drones in the air continues to increase, so does the number of near-misses with airplanes. At least, that’s what the U.K. Airprox Board data suggest. 

According to The Telegraph, the number of these incidents grew from 29 in 2015, to 71 in 2016, and 92 last year. That’s more than a threefold increase in two years, worrying many British officials and pilots. 

Steve Landells, a former RAF and British Airways Pilot and current flight safety specialist at the Balpa pilot’s union, considers this situation “very worrying.” Added to that, he thinks that the reported numbers might be painting an incomplete picture. “There’s a possibility there are a lot more near-misses that aren’t being seen,” he said. “It’s really hard to see something that small. This could just be the tip of the iceberg.” 

This new analysis comes at a precarious time, as the U.K. discusses of drone laws, including the recent consideration of doing away with the drone delivery-hampering ‘beyond visual line-of-sight’ regulations colliding with this troubling news of dramatic increases in near-misses. According to the research, 28 of the near-misses in the past year were considered to have the most serious collision risk, with some of them occurring at airports in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, and Bristol. 

“It’s a critical stage of the flight and you really don’t need to be distracted,” said Landells, in regards to pilots being distracted during the very serious preparation of landing an airplane. “If you see a drone flying past your cockpit it’s a real shock to the system. Anything that distracts you from getting the aircraft down on the ground is a safety hazard.” We've reported on incidents like these in the past, such as when a drone enthusiast crashed his UAV into a commercial airplane at Québec's Jean Lesage International Airport.

Landells is certainly not wrong about how dangerous distractions can be for commercial airplane pilots. In addition, recreational drone users should be aware of local regulations, and stay clear of any outgoing or inbound airplanes, not only because it’s illegal to fly a UAV in their vicinity, but because it puts other people in lethal danger. 

However, it’s yet unclear if the data in this study suggests that there's an alarming number of users to irresponsible users, or if this is merely an inevitable consequence of drones becoming an affordable item. In any case, the general correlation presented here, that with more drones being purchased, the number of misuse rises, certainly makes sense. We’ll just have to hope for more responsible use and keep each other accountable for endangering others in the process.