Drone Hit on British Airliner Adds Urgency to Call for New Defenses
There probably is a solution, but issuing a set of mandates about some sort of automated restriction isn't really the answer. For one thing, that would require everyone to buy a pre-configured drone from a store such as Walmart or Best Buy. But one thing I learned at the Drone Dealers Expo in Orlando the week of April 11 is that many drones aren't from big-box stores; in fact, many are custom-made. In addition, many drones use versions of Linux in their flight control systems, which means that bypassing some sort of geo-fencing system is well within the realm of possibility. Instead, airlines may want to consider adding the ability to detect drones to their suite of sensors. This may be something fairly simple such as the ability to detect an object in front of an airplane when it's in a critical situation, such as landing where maneuvers to avoid an object are both difficult and dangerous. Perhaps something as simple as the radar used to detect vehicles in a car's blind spot would be sufficient. In addition, it seems to me that a change in the federal aviation regulations needs to be considered. Currently, it's illegal to disable any aircraft in flight, including drones. But couldn't a change that allows a landing aircraft to disable a drone's flight control system, causing it to stop flying, be a worthwhile safety improvement? Such an ability—combined with a drone detection system—could go a long way in helping airline safety.The ability to disable a drone won't affect manned aircraft, and it won't affect drones that are operating legally. Drones that are operated in a manner that endangers the public really shouldn't have any protection. One thing I learned on that flight 25 years ago is that it doesn't take a lot to endanger a civilian aircraft. In my case, I was lucky and I had plenty of time and plenty of altitude to come up with a solution. But airplanes operating near an airport have no such luxury. They are low, and they are flying slowly enough that control is difficult at times. It's the situation where a drone impact could easily be catastrophic. More rules won't help. Enforcement will only work if you can find the drone operator. Telling airline pilots to look out for drones ignores the reality of what it's like to land an airliner full of passengers. We've clearly reached the point where some sort of active prevention is warranted, but first, we have to change the rules we already have.
I know that it may sound odd for someone who's a pilot and a longtime advocate for unmanned aircraft, including drones, to suggest such a thing. But the fact is that all of the rules in the world aren't keeping irresponsible operators from flying drones around airports.