Researchers Sound the Alarm on Drone-Plane Collision Threats

Risks of collisions between drones and planes have been highlighted in a recent study conducted by researchers from 's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Unmanned Robotic Systems Analysis (URSA).

Breaking new ground, this study utilized innovative technology to objectively count close calls instead of just pilot sightings.

During a three-year span, the researchers kept a close watch on Dallas-Fort Worth , one of the busiest hubs in the world. Within this period, they closely examined over 1.8 million flights by manned aircraft and about 460,000 flights by small, uncrewed aerial systems (sUAS).

Their keen observation led them to identify 24 near-midair collisions (NMACs) between sUAS and airplanes, occurring primarily near runway approach or departure zones.

The researchers suggested a solution for averting such near-misses: extend the drone exclusion zone around high-risk runways from approximately one mile to 3.5 miles.

One of the study's authors, Ryan Wallace noted that this would provide “enhanced protection for piloted aircraft operating at less than 500 feet above ground level during approach or departure,” as drones generally don't fly higher than 400 feet.

The study's innovation is in its departure from solely relying on pilot reports for data on near-collisions. This has been the traditional method, which resulted in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recording 2,596 such encounters in 2021, a sharp increase from the 1,210 reports in 2015.

To overcome this limitation, the researchers developed a novel data collection approach. They used a detection device stationed atop the bustling Terminal C of Dallas-Fort Worth airport to capture details about each drone within a 30-mile radius. Combined with aircraft tracking information, this data was analyzed using URSA's proprietary software, the Airspace Awareness Platform.

These techniques allowed for a more precise understanding of the situations leading up to these NMACs. The researchers discovered that in most of these cases, the drone was operating higher than the maximum allowed altitude for the area. This information is critical in shaping strategies to mitigate potential accidents.

Scott Winter, co-author of the study, underscored the importance of these findings, stating, “The findings from this study provide objective data for operators, government agencies, and airlines to understand sUAS operations better and prevent possible conflicts.”

Given that the number of sUAS operating in the US national airspace is predicted by the FAA to rise to nearly 2.4 million units by 2025, this research offers a timely intervention.

The study, as Dr. Stephen Rice, research collaborator, reportedly warned, addresses “the proliferation of drones, particularly ones available to the general public,” which pose “obvious risks.”

The research serves as a wake-up call for strengthening regulations and raising awareness among drone operators. It demonstrates the necessity for the aviation industry and regulatory bodies to work in concert, leveraging advanced technology to ensure safer skies.

The study's findings have been published in the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) International Journal of Aerospace.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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One comment

  1. Gee, fun.
    Who are the knuckleheads flying higher than they should near airports. They’re helping to make the rules even stricter.

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