The Aviation Herald has reported that a Boeing 737 jet carrying 80 passengers in Mozambique collided with a drone on Thursday, causing significant damage to the nose cone. No one was injured, but the incident again raises concerns about the possibility of collisions between commercial aircraft and drones—a topic that in the United States continues to rankle both the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), who are adamant about public safety (and keeping control of the skies) and the enormously large drone hobbyist community, who are keen on flying their beloved robots in the sky the way they enjoy.
The Linhas Aereas de Mocambique (LAM) jet was on a routine domestic flight from the capital Maputo, in the south, to Tete, in the Northwest near Malawi. As the aircraft approached the runway in Tete, the pilots reported hearing a loud bang on the front of the plane. According to the Aviation Herald, no abnormalities followed, so the crew—believing it to be a bird strike—continued to proceed with the landing.
After the passenger jet was on the ground and its 80 passengers disembarked, authorities examined the damage and concluded that the crumpled side of the nose cone was in fact caused by a drone. The damaged Boeing aircraft is currently under repair and a replacement one was sent to Tete to perform the return flight to Maputo. What type of drone caused the damage, or who was piloting it is still unclear.
Surprisingly, this is only the second recorded occurrence of a drone colliding with a passenger aircraft. The other happened in April 2016, when a British Airways Airbus A320 collided with a drone around Heathrow Airport in London as it was flying in from Geneva. As with the most recent incident in Mozambique, however, no was was hurt.
Despite the lack of injuries and few collisions, there have been plenty of near-misses and airports across the U.S. regularly report incidents with drones flying in or around the port’s airspace. For example, in a five-month period from August 2015 to January 2016, the FAA received 582 reports of drones in what it considers to be dangerous flying areas. That is an average of 116 a month.
Deep confusion has swirled around drone regulations for a number of years in the U.S. with the commercial drone and hobby pilots flying under little or heavy handed supervision, depending, and the FAA stalling to release a report of rules and regulations on the matter until just this past June. When a drone operator was charged for dangerous flying behavior, it was under the careless and reckless distinctions used for large scale aircraft.