Undoubtedly, the number of Airprox reports – near miss collisions in the air - involving suspected drone incidents is increasing exponentially across the globe but should risk managers be concerned? 

Figures from a 2017 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report shows between 2012 and 2016, more than half of all drone incidents involved near misses with aircraft and more than 60% of those happened in 2016. There was also a 75% increase in the number of drones being involved in near misses with aircraft in 2017, with the report finding the number of incidents involving drones “increasing exponentially”.

In 2016, there were 70 Airprox reports submitted to the US-based Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regarding drone near misses, while in the UK, airprox occurs at a rate of about 25 per month. 

To govern the use of drones, the Singaporean government passed a new Bill in Parliament in May 2016, with then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew noting that there had been more than 20 incidents involving drones reported in Singapore since April 2014.

Queensland Airports, risk and compliance adviser, Kimberley Pelly, said the issue should cause concern to all risk managers, not just those with direct ties to aviation. “The Civil Aviation Safety Authority recently enacted new regulations for flying drones, however, our worry is more around the hobbyist who gets his drone and finds the nearest park to fly it. One of our airports for instance, has a park at the end of it and even though you cannot fly a drone within 5.5 km of an airport, does the 15-year old that just purchased a drone off eBay know this?”

“To put it into context, a piece of metal the size of a 20c piece could cause significant damage to an aircraft propeller. This is why all airports do constant FOD (foreign object damage) patrols. We pick up everything from paper luggage tags to wire when we do a FOD patrol,” Pelly added.

StrategicRISK’s European team recently attended an aviation risk presentation by UK Airprox board director, Steve Forward, director of the UK Airprox board at Lloyd’s of London who noted the issue of air safety extended beyond airplanes and drones.

Airprox also includes near misses on runways on the ground, and incidents involving not just planes but balloons, blimps, gliders or parachutists.

Forward said that for pilots, a combination of keeping a sharp lookout is an important factor but only partly effective – he recommended an average 80% of the time looking outward, versus 20% spent looking at instruments.

Situational awareness and collision warning equipment also reduce the risk, Forward noted, but warned such technology is “not always compatible with equipment on other aircraft, which leads to problems”.