Wanted: CASA hunts ‘rogue’ drone flying near aircraft

written by Adam Thorn | August 6, 2020
A file image of a drone.
The number of drones in Australia is unknown, but estimates say it could be in the hundreds of thousands. (Australian Aviation archive)

CASA is appealing to the public to find a “rogue” drone that was spotted flying close to an aircraft as it was approaching to land at Sydney Airport.

The plane’s pilots spotted the one-metre device from the cockpit at about 1,200 metres on Monday, 20 July.

The news comes months after Australian Aviation revealed the number of ‘near encounters’ between drones and manned aircraft has doubled in three years.

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The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the object was described as blue and possibly a quadcopter type – meaning it has four rotors. It was spotted in the Granville/North Parramatta area between 2pm and 3pm.

“On the basis of the credible reports, CASA is concerned the drone may be flown again in the area, posing a risk to aircraft operating to Sydney Airport and in the area,” the organisation said in a statement.

Current regulation specifically prohibits a drone being flown in a way that could be hazardous to an aircraft, or higher than 120 metres above ground level.

Anyone with information about this drone being operated in the Granville/North Paramatta area is asked to contact CASA at: [email protected].

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In April, Australian Aviation uncovered documents revealing that there were 194 similar ‘near encounters’ between drones and aircraft last year, up from just 87 in 2016.

While one has yet to cause an accident, the numbers 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 A319 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 aircraft 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 termed a “serious incident”, which is an occurrence that has a high probability of becoming an accident.

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