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Drone Strikes Commercial Aircraft | First Official Recording Of Such An Incident

By Kishore Sawh on October 16th 2017

A few days ago one of the biggest fears about drones came to pass when a drone collided with a commercial aircraft on approach to Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec, Canada. this marks the first officially recorded incident of the type, and will probably be a landmark event.

AS it stands today, as reported by Transport Canada, there have been 1,596 drone incidents in 2017 in Canada alone, with 131 of them considered aviation concerns. That’s in 10 months, in one country, a country where there are already laws in place meant to help avoid such issues.

As of this writing drones are not allowed within 3.4 miles of Canadian airports, and up to a 90 meter service ceiling (see restrictions here). The drone that impacted the Sky Jet aircraft was adhering to the range restrictions from the airport but was flying at 1500 ft, far above the legal operating altitude limit. Operators who put aircraft at risk face steep fines and jail time under Canadian law. See statement from Transport Canada:

Transport Canada is monitoring the situation and is in contact with its transportation partners including Skyjet, the Jean Lesage International Airport and NAV CANADA. My department is in contact with the Service de police de la Ville de Québec and we will cooperate with the Transportation Safety Board should they decide to investigate.

Although the vast majority of drone operators fly responsibly, it was our concern for incidents like this that prompted me to take action and issue interim safety measures restricting where recreational drones could be flown. I would like to remind drone operators that endangering the safety of an aircraft is extremely dangerous and a serious offence. Anyone who violates the regulations could be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and/or prison. This applies to drones of any size, used for any purpose. All airports, helipads and seaplane bases are “No Drone Zones” if you do not have permission from Transport Canada. For 2017, to date 1,596 drone incidents have been reported to the department. Of these, 131 are deemed to have been of aviation safety concern.

[REWIND: Camera Drones | All You Want, Should, & Need To Know To Start Flying]

The aircraft affected was a Beechcraft A100 King Air belonging to Quebec-based SkyJet Aviation with 8 souls on board, and was fortunately able to land safely and sustaining relatively minor damage. This follows another recent drone collision with a U.S. Army UH-60M Black Hawk flying over Staten Island, New York,about a month ago, which damaged the helicopter’s main rotor blade, window frame and transmission deck. The drone in question was a DJI Phantom 4 quadcopter as pieces of it were recovered according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Both incidences are under investigation.


If you’ve followed along with my writings over the years you may be aware that aviation is a focal point in my life, and these kinds of incidents are not so much bothersome as infuriating.

It seems that the average drone operator hasn’t the foggiest idea of how the world of aviation works, and that the rules are tight for a reason. There also seems to be (judging from some social media comments I’ve seen today) this ignorant idea that something like a $300 million dollar Boeing 777 with a MTOW of 700,000lbs would not be affected by colliding with a small ten pounds drone. To those people I would suggest looking up ‘bird strikes’ and let those images sink in. Miracle on the Hudson, anyone?

The lack of understanding of the basic dynamics of flight and the environment in which it occurs is dangerous, and I for one am all for every drone operator to have to pass a rigorous exam to ensure their understanding is solid. But furthermore, I don’t think it’s enough.

There’s been much brouhaha over the past years about drone regulation and people seem to get especially defensive and frantic when the idea of drone-maker imposed restrictions via remote control are discussed, but frankly, trusting the average drone user not to breach the law could be costly. Not costly in the same way it could be costly riding a bike without a license can be, but hundreds of lives in the air and possibly more on the ground. The question is, what will it take for something like this to go through? How bad is the next accident going to have to be before meaningful restrictions occur?

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. m gardner

    Please STOP the misleading headlines.  The drone did NOT strike a commercial aircraft.  The commercial air craft struck the drone.  And the drone was operated incorrectly of course.  But aircraft are often operated incorrectly as well.  I live 1.25 miles from the end of a run way and airplanes are commonly below 400 feet passing over a residential neighborhood.  The FAA needs an online way to register drone flights.  Then it can get pissy about how they are operated.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You’re suggesting the commercial aircraft was in the wrong? Ha. Sorry but that’s lunacy. Drones have far less history in that space as commercial aircraft. If the plane and drone collided the drone was in the wrong place, and yes done so incorrectly. If you live 1.25 miles from a runway then no kidding aircraft will be below 400 ft. If you don’t like that tlak to your city planners because that’s a zoning issue and that is no barometer for how things are for the vast majority of people who don’t live on final. It’s not a misleading headline, period. 

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  2. James Moxley

    Ok, a few things, this article is about an article, which is based on an observation made by a pilot who thinks they hit a drone.  However this is good news, this is the first case of this happening if it’s true that this means that a plane hitting a drone did not cause the plane to crash. This article seems to play on the fears of readers, using hypothetical scenarios, they still don’ know 100% it was a drone, so please let’s just report the facts, rather than reporting about an article, this is how misinformation is spread. 

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  3. Jonathan Brady

    I absolutely GUARANTEE that terrorists are devising ways to use drones to bring down planes. I think manufacturer enabled limits are necessary. The problem is, people will just build their own drones if they’re hellbent on doing harm.

    I’m surprised people haven’t already landed drones with a bomb attached. This will be the future of terrorism.

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    • Matthew Saville

      That’s one of the very serious problems that nobody wants to talk about. What would it take to disable the GPS lockdown features of a drone? Do the oldest drones even HAVE no fly zone, “can’t take off” restrictions?

      And to the folks that say “a single drone can’t take down a jumbo jet” …well, what happens if you put a little bit of C-4 or something on it? Some drones can carry a 2+ lb DSLR, replace that with anything explosive and you’ve got more than enough ordnance to take out anything.

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  4. Matthew Saville

    This was on my mind the entire time I was watching the air show the other day in Huntington Beach.  It must be absolutely nerve-wracking now to be an aerobatic pilot of any kind, doing all that flying just a few feet off the deck. Eesh!

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  5. Dave Smith

    Miracle on the Hudson? Really that’s your comparison to a drone.  The miracle on the Hudson hit a FLOCK OF BIRDS, not ONE.  Bird strikes are common and often do ZERO damage or even interrupt the flight. Sometimes they do damage,  rarely if ever will one bird take down a plane. 

    Now my drone is set to not go over 400ft and my house is NO WHERE near an airport , but I’m constantly dodging aircraft. Simple because pilots are flying too low.  

    Especially the military ( I live 30 miles away from a large military base), for some reason they think the rules don’t apply to them. I’ve dodged mostly black hawks as they fly low over my house all the time and refuse to stop. They’ve spotted my drone and changed direction to come at it.  Causing me to drop fast, because they will LIE and report it as a problem or incident.   Even though I”m flying within the rules.

     I did have a F-18 crash my drone when it did an extremely low high speed pass over my house. The wash sent it tumbling and  it crashed.  The amount of complaints generated to the town and police dept. finally got them to stop doing these practice runs. They do them during the middle of the day when they think no a lot of people are home. It is scary as hell, it will shake your entire house. 

    So, it’s not just the drone pilots that are a problem. It’s the actual pilots themselves that are a problem. But, if you complain they don’t believe you because you’re not a trained pilot.  

    How many times has a plane crashed and the reason for the crash is “PILOT ERROR”.  They are crashing more planes and endangering people with “PILOT ERROR” at a rate far more often then drones are a problem.  “PILOT ERROR” has killed THOUSANDS of people. Drones have killed ZERO with collisions with planes.

    Just google Pilot error crashes and you’ll have a lot of reading on how dangerous these fools are dropping planes out of the sky. Far more then this ONE drone incident. 

    Your perspective is really screwed up on where the REAL issue is that is killing people.  You’ve bought into the hype. 

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    • Kishore Sawh

      No, I’m afraid I will not agree with this reasoning, and can poke holes in your argument. Also, I have not bought into hype. I’m fully aware of what occurred on Flight 1549, and that was used as en example everyone knows. I’ve also been around enough damaged aircraft to see what a single bird can do to small and large aircraft alike – punctured noses, windscreens, prop damage, fuselage indents and breaks, and of course engine damage leading to engine failure.  I’ve also seen a Legacy Hornet take a single bird through the starboard engine and have to make an emergency landing in Key West.

      You speak of F/A-18s over your house, and sure, they fly low at times but you speak of the frequency in which you’re dodging aircraft, but in what area do you live? Are you in an Alert Area? Restricted Area, Warning Area, Military Training Route, where? It’s very uncommon for military aircraft to fly below 500ft and FAA Regulation 91.79 / 91.119 (C) states no plane may fly closer than 500 feet from any person, vessel, vehicle or structure – the last I checked. Unless your house is right on final into a an military runway this is unlikely. Loud and low? Sure. 400 feet all the time? Sorry but I’m not buying it. 

      You then speak of pilot error in civil aviation being the cause of death. You’re comparing more than a century of manned flight and all the incidents that have occurred to drone operation in its genesis. No drones have caused deaths as of yet, but that’s the point – we are trying to avoid that. When a drone causes an accident where people die will you sing the same tune? “Pilot error has still killed more?” That century of flight has given us enough perspective to know when things are dangers. 

      Also, if you want to complain to someone about low flying aircraft and you ‘think’ they are too low, contact your local  Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) with specifics. Your police department won’t do anything. 

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    • Benton Lam

      Bought into the hype?

      I’ll direct you to one of the early Mythbusters, testing the chicken cannon myth. Lots of single prop aircraft around that does *NOT* have bird strike rated windshield. 

      For the record, even a thawed bird have no problems putting a hole clean through those windshield, hit the pilot and splatter about.

      And guess what? Your drone has the weight of a bird, so when there’s a crash, your drone transfers the same momentum as if it’s a bird strike. Don’t like their misbehaviour? Report them to the FAA. It didn’t take me long to find some kind of live flight tracker that tracked altitude of the aircraft. I can watch their altitude change as they approach SFO. Pressure your local representative on the military aircraft misbehaving. 

      Stop with your false equivalency by comparing misbehaving pilots with misbehaving drone operators. 

      I, for one, am *glad* that you won’t have a say on my country’s regulations. I hope they find that idiot and really throw the book at them.

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    • Dave Smith

      Well Kishore,  you example of a flock of birds taking down a plane is certainly not applicable to a drone hitting a plane.  That was just fear mongering. 

      So all your damaged aircraft you have mentioned a single one that took down an aircraft.  Even your legacy Hornet landed.  So your point is that aircraft can take a hit from a bird or drone and still land. 

      The area I live in is apparently the chosen path for their practice runs to their targets at the tank range. Not the final approach for an airfield. The jets always take nearly the same path. The black Hawks can come from any direction. 

       There is no airfield on this base, the airfield is located 20 miles in the opposite direction.  There is a bombing , artillery and tank range on the base. 

      Having my house shake from the explosions is normal, when they ramp up to deploy.  People who move into the area always ask why there is so much thunder and are surprised when they find out it’s bombs.

      Under 500ft  happens often, well because they don’t care and it’s hard to prove it. That’s what happens when we complain and yes we’ve complained to everyone under the sun, REPEATEDLY.  Got nowhere until the local government met with the base commander, hence the reason to call the police department, they call the mayor, the mayor calls the base commander AGAIN. 

      Since we’re surrounded by marshes, they could be flying low over nothing but marshes and pine trees and then suddenly there are neighborhoods. 

      Here how the complaints go,  5 black hawks just flew very low over my house again and rattled my windows.  “Can you identify them”.  Really?  “Can you verify the altitude”,  Yes much lower then normal.  They only believed it when I showed them drone footage and flight data.  Still nothing happens. 

      Now with all the 10,000’s of drones that were flying illegally and not a single collision that severly damaged a plane. Even in this incident they are not certain it was a drone, that cause “MINOR” damage. 

      BTW, in August  a private plane crashed in our county. Yup, pilot error is the preliminary stated cause. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Dave, unless they have done extensive testing tossing drones into 737 engines already, let alone at the props and windshields of the average Cessna single-engine prop, …then yes, a single drone is still a potential SERIOUS threat.

      It sounds like you have a vendetta against all pilots, period. Sorry that you live near an area where military craft do practice, but that’s just the fate of geography. Military craft need space, and pilots do make errors, yes, but so do car drivers, and every other type of human-behind-the-wheel type device.

      Drone pilots should still be fully licensed and regulated, and drones should still be restricted to certain safe areas. It is not a constitutional right to fly a drone anywhere and everywhere, un-licensed, just like it’s not a constitutional right to commandeer a certain radio wavelength or something…

      With greater technology tools and toys, comes the need for greater greater safety.

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