In October 2017, a drone collided with a commercial aircraft in Canada, striking one of the plane’s wings. The plane sustained minor damage but was able to land safely.
Research on drone damage to aircraft is still limited but a number of institutions have tested a variety of impact scenarios and each seems to reach a different conclusion.
Other research from the Alliance for System Safety of Unmanned aircraft system through research Excellence (Assure) in conjunction with the US’s Federal Aviation Authority suggested drones could inflict more damage than a bird collision.
The lithium ion batteries that power them may not shatter upon impact, instead becoming lodged in airframes and posing a potential risk of fire.
Ravi Vaidyanathan, a robotics lecturer at Imperial College, London, told the BBC: “The threat posed to larger aircraft by drones is small but not negligible.
“The probability of a collision is small but a drone could be drawn into a turbine. A drone greater than 2kg might break the cockpit windshield as well for certain aircraft.”
Martin Lanni, chief executive of airspace security company Quantum Aviation, said: “A drone looks quite fragile but the battery is hefty and if you compare a drone to a bird, then it could be potentially more dangerous if it goes through the engine or hits the fuselage.”
According to the UK Airprox Board, there were 92 instances of aircraft and drones coming close to colliding in 2017.
In the UK, legislation came into force in July, making it illegal to fly a drone within 1km (0.62 miles) of an airport. It is also illegal to fly a drone higher than 400ft (120m).
But experts have pointed out that this could be ineffective, given that a landing aircraft would fly below 400ft. And of course those with malicious intent would have little regard for legislation.
Systems have been tested in some prisons, where drones are often used to smuggle in goods, which aim to block radio signals within a certain area in order to prevent drones from landing.
For airports serious about protecting themselves from drone attacks, there is the option of a more sophisticated, if expensive, system, such as that offered by Quantum Aviation, which employs radar, radio frequency detectors and cameras to detect when drones are nearby and locate where they came from.
“In an ideal world, you talk to a person but to do that you need to know where the drones are coming from,” said Mr Lanni.
“What you don’t want is to have them dropping out of the sky.”
The Quantum Aviation system can “jam” a drone – effectively stopping it working – the drone should, in theory, have a default mode that would see it either return to where it came from or land safely.
DJI, the world leader in making civilian drones, introduced geo-fencing systems in its products in 2013.
This technology can prevent drones from flying in some locations and offers warnings to drone operators flying near a restricted zone.
Please like, share and tweet this article.
Pass it on: New Scientist