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Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)

SafetyWatch_icon_1.pngSafety concern

With the exponential increase in the number of RPAS in Australia, the number of near collisions with manned aircraft has also increased.

The growth in the number of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) in Australia is increasing rapidly. This presents an emerging and insufficiently understood transport safety risk.

Over half of all occurrences involving an RPAS reported to the ATSB are near encounters with manned aircraft – almost half involve high capacity air transport aircraft.

To date, there have been no reported collisions between RPAS and manned aircraft in Australia.

Due to the rarity of actual collisions, the ATSB has examined various experimental studies and mathematical models to predict damage expected from collisions between RPAS and manned aircraft. These are informed by abundant aircraft birdstrike data.

RPAS collisions with high capacity air transport aircraft can be expected to lead to an engine ingestion in about eight per cent of strikes. The proportion of ingestions expected to cause engine damage and engine shutdown will be higher than for bird ingestion (20 per cent of ingestions).

RPAS have the potential to damage a general aviation aircraft’s flight surfaces (such as the wings and tail), which could result in a loss of control. Rotorcraft blades are expected to be particularly susceptible to damage due to the invariably high impact speeds. Furthermore, a collision with a general aviation aircraft’s windscreen poses a high risk of penetration.

What can you do?

Report any breaches of the rules for flying RPAS to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) or any near misses with aircraft to the ATSB.

The ATSB is continuing to undertake analysis into this emerging technology to assist with advice regarding the associated implications for transport safety.

RPAS operators have a responsibility to ensure they are complying with Civil Aviation Safety Regulations which include not flying in areas specified within CASA Part 101 unless prior approval has been obtained. There are various mobile applications that can assist RPAS operators with identifying these areas.

More information

The ATSB has released a research report detailing its current understanding of the implications to transport safety associated of RPAS activity in Australia. AR-2017-016: A safety analysis of remotely piloted aircraft systems 2012 to 2016: A rapid growth and safety implications for traditional aviation was last updated in August 2017.

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Last update 23 October 2017