Study Finds Drones Pose Much Greater Threat Than Birds to Aircraft

As part of a multi-institution Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) study focused on unmanned aerial systems, researchers at The Ohio State University are helping quantify the dangers associated with drones sharing airspace with planes.

Last week, a research team from the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) released a report concluding that drone collisions with large manned aircraft can cause more structural damage than birds of the same weight for a given impact speed.

The FAA will use the research results to help develop operational and collision risk mitigation requirements for drones. ASSURE conducted its research with two different types of drones on two types of aircraft through computer modeling and physical validation testing.

Reports of close calls between drones and airliners have surged. The FAA gets more than 100 sightings a month of drones posing potential risks to planes, such as operating too close to airports. The FAA estimates that 2.3 million drones will be bought for recreational use this year, and the number is expected to rise in coming years.

Unlike the soft mass and tissue of birds, drones typically are made of more rigid materials. The testing showed that the stiffest components of the drone—such as the motor, battery and payload—can cause the most damage to the aircraft body and engine.

The researchers concluded that drone manufacturers should adopt “detect and avoid” or “geo-fencing” capabilities to reduce the probability of collisions with other aircraft.