A Drone Hit a Passenger Plane and Nothing Happened

Image: A320 via British Airways
Image: A320 via British Airways

Earlier today, a British Airways pilot on approach to London Heathrow said that he thought he collided with a drone. It’s the nightmare pilots (and drone operators) fear the most, but according to British Airways, the plane didn’t get a scratch.

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The Airbus A320 was flying from Geneva, Switzerland, to London Heathrow. The pilot reported an object hitting the front of the plane, although it doesn’t appear to have caused any damage. A British Airways spokesperson said: “Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.”

The police are investigating the incident, but no arrests have been made yet. In the UK, flying a drone near an airport is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

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A drone colliding with a passenger aircraft is the absolute worst-case scenario, something that the FAA in the States has been warning of for years, and taking steps to prevent. But what would actually happen if a normal consumer drone hit an aircraft has always been unclear.

Research suggests that drone being sucked into the engine would only result in injury 0.2 percent of the time. That’s not to say everyone should fly their drones near airports to get some sick photos—it’s still dumb as hell—but that perhaps a drone hitting a plane won’t result in instant death for all involved.

[BBC]

Contributing Editor

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DISCUSSION

Sucking a drone into your engine may not result in injury, but it does cause a lot of rather expensive repairs to the turbine blades. If it passes out through the bypass section your looking at replacing several blades and possibly some stator sections. Normally you replace the damaged blade and the one on the disk opposite for balance, they are somewhat matched. There is an enormous amount of labor in this along with corresponding downtime.

If it goes through the core, well it just gets worse. You still damage the blades in the bypass section, but this goes on down the stack of compressor blades into the hot section. This means the engine must be disassembled. Not cheap! Even on small engines the blades come to thousands of dollars a pair, with each stage becoming progressively more expensive. Birds are soft and become increasingly finer bits as they pass through the engines. The engines are designed to absorb birds. they are not designed to absorb lithium batteries and rare earth magnets and windings.

So to sit the plane on the ground costs thousands a day in payments along with lost revenue. Then there is the repair. FOD damage is not necessarily covered by insurance, unless you carry additional FOD insurance. There is a deductible portion which you pay regardless. So are the maroons that fly these devices around airports going to cover the costs from the damage they cause? I doubt it. Most of them couldn’t pay for one blade, aside from all the other costs. So we will all end up paying more for tickets if the carriers have to put up with yet another factor in their bottom line. All so some twit can get some crappy footage for their Facebook page.