24th Mar 2018

Civil drone almost collides with Lufthansa plane

  • Drones are posing security and privacy risks (Photo: Chris Hunkeler)

The number of near-miss incidents between civilian drones and commercial aircraft at airports is raising questions over passenger safety in Europe.

Earlier this week, a Lufthansa plane almost collided with a drone near Warsaw's Chopin international airport, reported Reuters.

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Officials said the remotely-controlled drone passed within 100 metres of the commercial airliner. Over 100 passengers were on board.

The biggest risk is that the drone gets sucked into one of the engines.

Another incident took place at Heathrow airport on Tuesday (22 July). An Airbus A320's wing passed 6 metres below a drone hovering at the airport.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says it registered six other near-misses at UK airports between March 2014 and March 2015.

Flying drones close to passenger planes carries up to a five-year prison sentence in UK.

Tim Johnson, director of policy at the CAA, in a statement following the Heathrow near miss, said “drone users must understand that when taking to the skies, they are entering one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world".

In April, Manchester airport also suspended flights on one of its runways for 20 minutes because of a “potential drone sighting”. Four in-bound flights had to be diverted to other nearby airports.

Germany introduced new rules that prohibit flying them with 1.5 km of any airport.

Other incidents reported in France last year sparked alarm, after drones approached nuclear power plants, leading to several arrests.

Meanwhile, an 18-year old student in the US recently released a video of a four-propeller drone firing a semi-automatic handgun strapped to its body.

The market for drones in the EU, according to European Commission estimates, could be worth up to €15 billion per year in the next 10 years.

But current EU-wide rules are limited to drones weighing more than 150 kilos.

The EU is working on safety rules to better regulate the devices of any weight.

Last year, it said civil drones must have an equivalent level of safety to "manned" aviation operations. The plan is to get machines properly regulated and flying into airspace as from 2016.

Violeta Bulc, the EU’s transport commissioner in March, said such rules should focus on addressing the risk associated with operating a drone.

“Those rules must be proportionate to that risk. And they should be international, as much as possible”, she noted.

Speaking at a conference on remotely piloted aircraft systems in Riga, Bulc proposed an electronic identity card for each drone so the operator can be identified.

“When a drone is used in prohibited airspace or is used in an unsafe manner, or for illegal purposes, the authorities should be able to act and hold the operator accountable”, she said.

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