The number of ‘near encounters’ between drones and manned aircraft has doubled in three years, Australian Aviation can reveal.
New figures released by the ATSB show there were 194 such occurrences last year, up from just 87 in 2016.
While one has yet to cause an accident, the numbers will raise concerns that a more dangerous incident in future is inevitable. In Canada in 2017, for instance, a drone hit a commercial aircraft and damaged its wing, while in the UK a device flew directly over the wing of an Airbus 319 coming into land at London Gatwick.
The rise in reported cases is likely due to the explosion in drone ownership, with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau now estimating there are at least 50,000, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of remote piloted crafts in Australia.
Between 2010 and the end of 2019, there were 628 so-called near encounters, 538 of which involved planes and 85 helicopters.
Fortunately, only one of that larger number involved what the ATSB term a “serious incident”, which is an occurrence that has a high probability of becoming an accident.
The news was contained in a comprehensive ATSB report looking at all types of accidents over the last decade.
It also revealed that in 2019 there were 220 aircraft involved in accidents in Australia, with a further 154 involved in serious incidents. There were 35 deaths from 22 fatal accidents – numbers that are consistent with the average across the previous decade.
Between 2010 and 2019, more than 90 per cent of accidents and fatal accidents involved aircraft operating in general aviation and recreational aviation sectors. However, the number of GA and fatal accidents in that period has decreased.
There have been no fatalities in scheduled commercial air transport in Australia since 2005. To read the full report, click here.
Dr Stuart Godley, ATSB director transport safety, said, “Each year, thousands of safety occurrences involving Australian aircraft and foreign registered aircraft operating in Australia are reported to the ATSB.
“This report is part of a series that aims to provide information and statistical data to the aviation industry, manufacturers and policymakers, as well as to the travelling and general public, about these aviation safety occurrences.
“In particular, the data can be used to determine what can be learned to improve transport safety in the aviation sector.”