When the unexpected occurs, having simple processes to follow is the best way to minimise the risk of an accident.
Drone sightings by commercial aircraft continue to rise. Many countries are yet to develop standard operating procedures for drone sightings near aerodromes or violations of controlled airspaces.
IFALPA recently released guidelines for ATCs and pilots who see an airborne drone.
The guide offers recommendations, which won’t suit all situations due to the unpredictable nature of drone encounters, but can supplement standard procedures and help pilots and ATCs handle drone reports until industry-wide processes are in place. It does not supersede airline or Airways' drone procedures.
The IFALPA guidelines recommend five steps when encountering a drone: speed, inform, delay, avoid and report.
Pilots and ATCs need to coordinate a speed reduction if a drone is spotted. Reducing speed minimises the impact energy between an aircraft and a drone if there is a collision.
- Reduce speed to minimum clean during climb and decent
- Reduce speed during approach to the airfield/airport as feasible.
All drone sightings must be reported to ATCs with as much information as possible. This will enable positive identification of a drone (as opposed to a balloon, bird etc). Information should include:
- Lateral and vertical separation
- Moving or stationary
- Size, shape, appearance (e.g. quadcopter, camera position, colour, etc.)
Once confirmed as a drone, ATCs then need to tell supervisors and neighbouring sectors, as well as pilots on and joining the frequency.
ATC’s should manage airspace and consider possible delays/diversions if necessary.
Pilots can request alternative routings or radar vectors, while ATCs consider the safety of the operation and avoid the area if necessary.
When the incident is over, pilots and ATCs should file safety reports with the appropriate aviation authority.
If a drone presents an imminent threat to the aircraft, the guidelines can be superseded by pilots - declaring an emergency, taking avoidance action, etc.
For a full copy of the guidelines, please see HERE.
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