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Drones vs Planes: A midair tragedy waiting to happen

Last updated on

June 5, 2018


    In today’s modern society, we can access data and information easily. The internet, the rise of smartphones and the huge leaps in technology have made the world a smaller place than ever. We can now see and experience things from across the globe which were previously out of reach, access information and data and expose hidden areas to the public for the first time. This is where the drones vs planes debate comes in.

    One such area which has developed rapidly in recent years is drones. Once the preserve of hobbyists and government surveillance, drones have now become a familiar and common sight in everything from photography to espionage, and are a regular accepted part of our everyday lives and technological development.

    Whilst it is undeniable that there are a huge number of advantages to drone technology, there are also a number of issues, primarily around safety and aviation, which need to be considered and addressed.

    DJI AeroScope Airport

    Drone safety concerns

    One of the primary concerns surrounding drones is the safety aspects which come with them. They travel at high speeds and there have been numerous stories and warnings about them colliding with everything from birds to planes to people.

    One of the key areas for concern is planes; both commercial passenger planes and military aircraft. Planes colliding with birds has always been an issue in aviation, and there are obviously far more birds in the skies than drones, suggesting that they must naturally post a higher risk. This is not necessarily the case, however. Whilst it is true that there are fewer drones in the sky than birds, the damage they have the potential to do is far greater.

    Anti-drone technology

    What does the research show?

    Research has shown that the dense, rigid materials the drones are made of, such as lithium batteries, plastic and metal, can do far more damage and prove a far greater risk to a plane than the carcass of a bird, which is relatively soft and malleable in comparison.

    In addition, in every collision scenario involving a drone, damage was done to the plane. Always at least minor damage, sometimes far more severe. One particularly alarming case showed that should a drone hit the fan blades of an aircraft during operation. It struck at the highest possible speed, it could potentially shatter the blades. This would result in loss of power to the engine, and a potentially devastating outcome.

    Another risk in this area is the chance of the drone being sucked into the engine of the plane. Something which has been known to occur with birds. With drones, however, the harder, more rigid materials potentially pose more of a risk. Scientists created a simulation illustrating how a drone could become shredded to fragments inside a jet engine. The high velocities could allow the damage to increase, with potentially devastating consequences.


    Whilst there are a number of advantages to drone technology, including accessing incredible images and data, sharing information and acting as a useful tool for intelligence and surveillance services. There still remains with them a number of safety risks and potential issues, particularly with regards to aviation.

    There are a number of elements and ideas being considered. The one thing which cannot be denied is the importance of finding a workable, longer term solution as quickly as possible. This avoids the beneficial elements of drone technology from being forgotten in a tragedy involving drones and planes.

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