All the Canadian authorities are looking into the midair collision of a
flight school Cessna 172 and fair sized drone that could have ended a lot
worse than it did. The fact that it happened within a mile of an airport and that the drone operator was a local police department has added some extra attention to the mishap. The Canadian Flyers 172 was substantially damaged
in the collision, with major sheet metal damage and an engine teardown
mandated because the lower arc of the prop went through the drone. Had it
been a few feet higher, the story may have been a lot different but the instructor on board, who assumed the 172 had hit a bird, made a routine
landing at Buttonville Airport.
The instructor and a student had just turned final for Buttonville, which is
in the northern part of Toronto and were set up for landing when they felt
a substantial jolt that moved them in their seats. They were about 500 AGL
and a mile from the threshold. The landing was normal. “When exiting the aircraft, they were shocked to see a major dent on the left underside of the engine cowling. The airbox was also bent,” said a report from Transport Canada’s Civil Aviation Daily Occurence Reporting System (CADORS). “A few
hours later, a police detective confirmed a York Regional Police drone had struck their aircraft.” The incident occurred Aug. 10 but didn’t show up in
the CADORS until Aug. 18.
The CADORS report classifies the accident as “unauthorized entry” to
controlled airspace. It also noted that Nav Canada, the air traffic control provider, was not aware of drone activity in the area. In Canada, drones are banned within three nautical miles of uncontrolled airports and restricted
to 400 feet AGL without special authorization. To fly in the controlled airspace the drone and aircraft were in, Nav Canada has to approve it and
the drone pilot must be in radio contact with controllers. The police department has not commented any further on the mishap except to say the
drone was part of a police operation in the area. It hasn’t identified the
type of drone involved but there was media coverage when the department acquired its first drone in 2016. That was an Aeryon Ranger which, with payload, weighs 10-12 pounds.
John T August 21, 2021 at 7:53 pm
This particular drone strike occurred near an airport in Canada, while on final. I’m really happy that there were no injuries to the student pilot or instructor from this event. It’s very interesting that the CFI (and
evidently mechanics?) didn’t connect this accident with a drone, but instead thought the cause was the impact of a bird strike. I wonder how many other incidents that have a root cause of “bird strike” were actually caused by a drone? Clearly, the risk of a drone strikes to small aircraft is real,
though it’s likely we’ll hear nay sayers label this as “just an isolated,
rare event”. Kudos for the police department that sent a detective to the airport to inform them of the real cause of the accident. Absent a software cage for the remotely piloted aircraft, it’s easy to see how it could wander 100' above the 400' cap. Failure to comply with regulatory pre-notification requirements – that’s another discussion. Do active law enforcement actions allow ‘bending’ or breaking airspace restrictions and other aviation rules?
For drone operations, is the 400' cap determined as feet above the GROUND,
or feet above the nearest obstacle within some defined distance?? Is the mandatory ATC coordination distance measured from the nearest exterior
boundary of an airport, the runway, the traffic control tower, or the
lat/long of the center of the airport? I don’t think I’ve ever seen mention
of any clearly defined point, in the US at least, to determine when various maximum altitudes or distances from airports kick in for drone operations,
or where exactly coordination with airport management or ATC is required.
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Gareth A August 22, 2021 at 7:27 am
Given that there are 25 million plus general aviation flight hours per year
in the US alone and this is the first time I’ve heard about a drone actually hitting a GA aircraft in the world, let alone the states, other than maybe
that military helicopter, I’d say this is about as rare as it gets. Drones
have been big business for the last five years or so, so one drone strike
that caused no injury in 125 million flight hours is pretty rare to me. If
you fly 100 hours per year then you are more likely to get hit by lightning
in that year than hit a drone, and with much worse consequences.
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Andrew Meranda August 21, 2021 at 11:51 pm
I don’t know Canadian drone regulations but in the USA, drones must stay 5 miles away from airports unless they contact ATC or the airport operator
before and after a flight. Flying one in the final approach path to an
airport is an incredibly dumb thing to do. I’m guessing that the police operator didn’t have a clue what they were doing and should be removed from this kind of duty. GA aircraft can’t see these things in flight because
they’re too small, moving quickly relative to the aircraft and may be in a blind spot. Mixing unmanned aircraft with manned aircraft in the same
airspace is bound to result in accidents like these until drones are
equipped with better “sense and avoid” technology.