Watch This Drone Fly Foolishly Close to a Passenger Jet

Know what's a really stupid thing to do? This.

Know what's a really stupid thing to do? This.

It might not look like much, but it's likely one of the first videos of a small-fry cinema drone cruising in close proximity of a descending passenger jet. The footage was shot over Vancouver International Airport by YouTube user Quadrotor Dragonfly late last year, and is just now coming to the attention of Canadian air safety officials. 

Dragonfly appears to have kept his distance—note the digital zoom—but that doesn't mean this is legal, per se. According to Civil Aviation Regulations, if you want to fly a UAV like Dragonfly did here you have to obtain a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada. (This is the equivalent to obtaining a Certificate of Authorization or Waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration.) If you flout that clearance, and then go do something like this, you'll be subject to the various fines for violating the Aeronautics Act.

It's unclear if Dragonfly got clearance from Transport Canada to do this. Either way, it probably was not a smart idea. In theory, you're putting a plane full of passengers at risk. If a mere goose—a relatively soft mass of flesh, feathers, and bone—can pose a serious risk to an airborne airliner, it stands to reason that a quad- or hexacopter, comprised largely of plastic and metal parts, could wreak havoc on a jet's jets. 

While Dragonfly flew off to the side of the plane's final descent path, the drone appears to have been loitering at the same elevation as the plane. Up there, it's tough to call wind. An errant gust could easily throw a drone right in line of a plane's downward trajectory, getting sucked up into one of its engines. And then, it's quite possibly goodbye airplane.

Both Transport Canada and the RCMP are investigating Dragonfly's videos, as the Vancouver Sun reports. Steve Hughes, a representative with the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada's board of directors, told the Sun that the drone in the clip is clearly non-compliant with MAAC's guidelines. 

“This is a totally unacceptable use of such equipment, something we’re trying to prevent,” Hughes told the Sun. “It’s pilots like these who can give the hobby a black eye. YouTube is going to be the death of us.”

It calls to mind a close encounter between a drone and a passenger plane in March 2013 at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City—you know, that drone the FBI wanted your help tracking down. Granted, we're inching toward a future where commercial airspace is more and more a commingling of manned and unmanned aircraft. But field testing and trouble shooting next-gen airspace should first be done at approved test sites, not by some guerilla hobbyist looking for subscribers.