Helicopters are at highest risk from consumer drones


Consumer drones are a severe risk for helicopters – according to a recent report from the UK Government.

The UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has revealed that helicopters are at the greatest risk from drones of all manned aircraft. Citing a specialist from the British Airline Pilots Association BALPAs, the report outlines three main reasons why helicopter safety needs attention:

Firstly: Helicopters are “supremely susceptible to catastrophic damage” in the result of a drone striking any part of the helicopter, most notably the windscreen and rotors.

Secondly: Helicopters more than any other aircraft type, fly over dense urban areas where margin for error is small.

Finally: BALPA notes a large number of helicopter missions fly to areas where there is likely to be an increase in drone activity – including traffic and police incidents.

You can find the link to the full publication here.

There have been several helicopter crashes and near misses involving drone interference. Last year marked the first helicopter crash caused by a drone – according to the FAA. A training flight taking place in South Carolina on 18 February 2018 crashed after a DJI Phantom drone appeared directly in front of the aircraft, causing the instructor to swerve and the helicopter’s tail to hit a tree.

Since then, drones have been cited in several accidents, such as the Leicester City AW169 crash which was suspected of having been caused by a police drone flying too close, though this has since been denied.

One of the largest air ambulance operators in the UK – Babcock International – has called for temporary flight-restriction zones around helicopter landing sites to help mitigate these risks. A representative of Babcock and Captain Tim Pottage representing the BALPA said:

“We still feel strongly that there is a need for a temporary flight restriction zone to be placed around the landing sites of ad hoc landing zones for emergency helicopter activity. The first thing would be to require that there is a temporary restriction zone. We would suggest 1 km, unless it is co-ordinated with the helicopter pilot.”

Summarising the section on helicopters, the report concludes saying: “The Government should introduce temporary drone flight restriction zones around helicopter landing zones. The Government should publish findings from a review on this and legislate accordingly within the next twelve months.”