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UK ministers have ordered the Department of Transport (DoT), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to start testing what happens when a consumer quadcopter crashes into a commercial passenger jet, in order to establish once and for all if the technology is safe to use in the air.
Pilots have concerns that unmanned aerial vehicles () would cause grave harm if they were to hit commercial aeroplanes in mid-air, including piercing and shattering the plane’s windscreen, as well as the fear that a sucked into a plane’s engines would cause it to explode.
The UK government has earmarked, according to ibtimes.com, over £250,000 to pay for the experiment, which will be carried out by UK defence technology company Qinetiq in a 5,000 sq mile area of restricted airspace in Snowdonia, Wales.
“We’re conducting mid-air collision studies for the CAA to look at impact of aircraft with unmanned vehicles,” Dr Peter Downer, an aviation expert with the Ministry of Defence told the Daily Mail.
“There is a series of trials about the security risks and we need to continue this with a commercial study. There will be further studies of mid-air collisions of impact with fuselage and windows.”
According to the National Air Traffic Service, there are now over two million drones in the UK. The CAA has had to investigate 23 near misses between drones and aircraft in a six-month period, and over the summer there were several close calls between and drones flying at Manchester Airport, Newquay Airport and Stansted Airport.
In April, a British Airways flight was approaching Heathrow Airport when something hit the front of the plane. The pilots reported the incident, leading to an investigation by airport police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, as well as widespread media coverage about safety.
In the end, UK transport minister Robert Goodwill admitted to the House of Lords that the supposed “” might actually have been a plastic bag, and because of this, he would not be pushing for tighter restrictions against the use of consumer drones.
However, the number of near misses since the much-publicised plastic bag incident in April shows that drones could pose a danger to public safety, but rather than ban them outright, the UK government is seeking to establish just exactly how much harm they can cause.