A study has suggested that the chances of an aircraft being damaged by a small drone is ‘minimal’.
The study used data from birds striking planes to understand what would happen if it was a drone that hit the plane instead.
The researchers from George Mason University concluded that only 3% of collisions involving birds that are a similar size and weight to drones caused damage to the aircraft.
The percentage for harm to humans was even lower and, even then, injuries to humans mostly occurred with flocks of birds.
The research was conducted after new rules in the United States decreed that any drone that weighs more than 250g needs to be registered with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
The researchers wrote an article about their research in which they said that the skies have more fowl than drones clogging them up. There are nearly 10 billion birds in American airspace but the chances of a bird hitting a plane are still remarkably low. Overall the researchers took a look at 25 years of data the FAA gathered on planes colliding with birds to see what damage a drone could do to an aircraft.
There have been 160,000 bird strikes reported since 1990. 14,314 of those strikes caused damage. 80% of the damage was caused by larger birds such as turkey vultures, which weigh far more than a domestic drone.
An overwhelming majority of collisions involving smaller birds, around 97%, caused absolutely no damage to the aircraft. The researchers also claimed that because people are not under any obligation to report strikes the percentage of damage causing strikes could be even lower. Strikes that don’t result in damage may have gone unreported, or even unnoticed.
The researchers did admit that a drone may cause damage where a bird may not because they have different makeups. They requested that the FAA themselves do some research to see what damage could be caused.
They also said that while some strikes involving birds caused fatalities, no strike on that level was caused by a bird the size of a domestic drone. If drones were to collide with planes to the same degree that birds do, which is one bird in one million, then we could be waiting a long time before we see a drone-plane collision that leads to damage.
The researchers went on to say that a damaging incident will happen roughly every 1.87 million years of flight time for 2kg drones. The chances of a fatal accident involving a drone are much lower. Overall it’s an acceptable risk. At least according to the research.