Image from www.avherald.com

In what appears to be the first serious incident of its kind, a drone has apparently collided with a passenger-carrying jet, causing damage but no injuries. The incident occurred Thursday in Mozambique, when a Boeing 737-700 aircraft was coming in to land at Mozambique Airport.

As the aircraft descended, an object collided almost directly with the nose of the aircraft. The force of the collision buckled part of the cone.

According to the Aviation Herald website, flight TM-136 was on an internal flight within the country from Maputo to Tete – and on final approach when the incident occurred. Eighty passengers and six crew were on board. The crew reported hearing a loud bang, and initially suspected it might have been a bird strike.

Upon examination of the damage, however, it became clear it had not been caused by a bird. There was no blood or other debris associated with such strikes.

States the Herald, “A post flight examination revealed a drone had impacted the right hand side of the radome.” It is not explained how that conclusion was reached.

Image from www.avherald.com, showing damage allegedly caused by a drone strike
Image from www.avherald.com, showing damage allegedly caused by a drone strike

At this stage, debris from the drone – assuming that is what caused the damage – has not been located. Most jurisdictions prohibit the operation of drones within specified distances of any airport. And the scale of this damage looks to be beyond what any consumer drone could produce.

In an update Sunday, however, the Aviation Herald reported: “In the region there are frequently drones weighing around about 10kg/22lbs operated for mining survey. Ground witnesses describe those drones are being operated without regard for the aerodrome and aircraft traffic.”

Elsewhere, there have been concerning incidents – some of which are on YouTube – that show pilots operating drones within drone-restricted zones. In the following example, despite the poster insisting the flight posed no threat, there is an admission the craft was roughly one kilometre from the aircraft on approach to Vancouver International Airport. Regulations in Canada state that no drone may be operated within nine kilometres of airports, except with special permission and precautions:

Some manufacturers, DJI in particular, have sophisticated software that sets up a “geofence” – effectively prohibiting an operator from flying a drone in such areas. A pilot of a DJI product would have to deliberately over-ride those built-in safety protocols and assume personal responsibility for their actions. Data recording that decision is captured and preserved.

Still, there have been incidents with operators who ignore the rules. These rare but high-profile incidents damage the entire profession/hobby, and in some cases result in highly reactive policy decisions/restrictions that do not reflect the overall reality.

The Drone Manufacturer’s Alliance, which represents the interests of the majority of civilian drone manufacturers, issued a statement, which included the following:

“In past incidents, early reports of drone involvement turned out to be false,” says Kara Calvert, the Alliance’s executive director. “Nevertheless, we take these reports seriously, and our member companies stand ready to offer assistance to Mozambique’s aviation authorities as they investigate this incident.

“Our members are investing heavily in technology and features that enhance safety and help avoid collisions, and we work hard to educate users about safe operations. As the industry evolves, we believe it is important for authorities and policy makers to proceed thoughtfully and in a way that continues to recognize the immense benefits of drone technology.”

DJI, 3DR, GoPro and Parrot are key members of the Alliance, which attempts to serve as a single voice on behalf of drone manufacturers and customers.

TDC will be watching for further developments on this story – and will update you as the investigation proceeds. One interesting comment was posted Sunday on the AV Herald website. A commenter who gave his name was Michael Holey stated: “I was on the flight on 5/01/17 and this “drone strike” is hog wash. Not a drone at all. Let’s see what the investigation brings up.”

We encourage all pilots to know and obey all local regulations, and to bear in mind those regulations can vary between different jurisdictions. Responsible and safe operation of drones is important for the continued development of this enterprise for both hobbyists and commercial operators.

Flying near manned aircraft without specific permission and precautions is *never* a good idea.


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