ATSB revises mid-air drone incident forecast to stable, despite fears of it doubling
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ATSB revises mid-air drone incident forecast to stable, despite fears of it doubling

The number of mid-air incidents involving drones in Australia is expected to remain stable this year, despite earlier predictions they would double from 2016 figures.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has revised its forecast of near misses between drones and planes in its most recent analysis, allaying fears of a dramatic increase in 2017.

It was predicted the numebr of mid-air incidents involving drones would double in 2017, but that figure has since been revised.

It was predicted the numebr of mid-air incidents involving drones would double in 2017, but that figure has since been revised.

Photo: UNSW

Between January and June this year, an average of 8.5 mid-air incidents per month were reported to the bureau.

The figure represents a drop from the national average of 11.9 incidents per month between July and December 2016.

The ATSB has revealed a drone came close to colliding with a Virgin flight on approach to Brisbane Airport.

The ATSB has revealed a drone came close to colliding with a Virgin flight on approach to Brisbane Airport.

Photo: Glenn Hunt
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The analysis was submitted by the bureau as part of its submission to a senate committee into regulations surrounding drones. A public hearing will be held in Canberra on August 29.

The ATSB will appear before the committee as well as the Australian Airports Association, Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

Figures submitted by the bureau show there have been 242 mid-air drone incidents since 2012, and more than half of these occurred between July 2016 and June 2017.

The bureau's submission also details how a Virgin flight almost collided with a drone during its approach to Brisbane Airport in late July, forcing other flights to be diverted.

"The crew of a Virgin Embraer 190 reported that at 4100 feet on approach to Brisbane Airport they passed a [drone] at cockpit height between the fuselage and the wingtip," the submission said.

"Following this, a Qantas Boeing 737 elected to track five nautical miles off-track to avoid the area."

An investigation was not launched by the ATSB as the drone operator was unable to be identified.

Australian aviation groups have expressed concern in their submissions to the committee of the potential for mid-air collisions between planes and drones.

Australian Airports Association chief executive Caroline Wilkie said in the body's submission that with more people using drones, many weren't aware of restrictions around spaces like airports.

"There is a significant growing risk that aviation safety could be significantly compromised if there is not suitable regulatory oversight of [drones]," she said.

"It is unlikely that hobbyists will have the required depth of knowledge to understand the potential safety hazards posed by inappropriate use of drones."

The association has recommended that all users of drones heavier than 250 grams should be registered with CASA.

Other recommendations include safety-parameter software to monitor height and distance be installed on all drones heavier than 2 kilograms.

Public awareness campaigns of drone regulations undertaken by CASA have also been proposed.

Current regulations set out by CASA restrict drone users to fly above 120 metres, and must not fly at night or within 30 metres of other people or above populous areas.

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With the number of drone users increasing, so too have the number of complaints about them in residential areas, with CASA receiving at least one complaint per week from Canberra residents.

CASA stated in its submission more regulations were needed in the growing industry to support "previously unforeseen applications of drone technology" such as aerial home delivery.

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.