“Contrary to sensational media headlines, the skies are crowded not by drones, but by fowl.”
That’s the synopsis of a new study from George Mason University that suggests the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is overblowing the risk small drones pose to manned aircraft. The study found that an incident in which an airplane is damaged by a drone weighing 4.5 pounds should happen once every 1.87 million years of drone flight time. An injury or fatality? About 100 times less likely than that.
The George Mason study did acknowledge that there’s a lack of data on exactly what kind of damage a small drone can inflict on an airplane because turbines are only tested to see how they’ll handle bird strikes. However, a recent study conducted by Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering says 8-pound drones would have “devastating” effects if sucked into the turbofan engines of commercial aircraft.
So here we have two respected institutions of higher education, both in Virginia. Do they disagree about the danger? Maybe not. The Mercatus report from George Mason University finds that based on a statistical analysis of the available data, the chance of a bird hitting a plane and doing any damage is very low. The ergo is that drones are about the same size as birds and there are a lot fewer of them so…
Virginia Tech says yes but assuming a medium-sized drone (8 pounds) which are not what are being flown with reckless abandon, is sucked directly into the engine there would be a hell of an explosion. After which there would be a whole bunch of variables at work. Which the pilots say is very likely not to end well.