Hundreds of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), known as drones, have encountered airliners and airports and collisions have occurred, IATA research has discovered.

From January 2013 to June last year, 856 reports from seven official sources were found through IATA’s research, with one suspected and one confirmed collision included. Almost 90% of reports were from North American sources. 

There was no link between the likelihood of a near collision and distance from the airport, and almost half of the reports were of small RPAS, defined as having a wingspan of less than six feet (1.82 metres).

Near collisions, defined as two aircraft being less than 0.1 nautical miles (0.18 kilometers) apart laterally and 500 feet above or below each other. Five of the incidents involved traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) alerts. Only government drones are known to use TCAS.

Speaking at the IATA Global Media Day on 10 December, IATA Safety and Flight Operations Senior Vice President, Gilberto Lopez Meyer (see photo), said: “We assume that those [TCAS using drones] were government operated, but we don’t know. Those certainly were RPAS that were equipped with TCAS system because the airline, the other aircraft, had the TCAS alert. This is a serious issue and we are working with ICAO to produce the necessary procedures and regulations and standards that control this problem as soon as possible. It is a serious problem. We cannot be sure these RPAS were military.”

Drones were reported to be as low as 15 feet and high as 38,000 feet. IATA is active within ICAO on this topic of safety and drones and has called for states to make citizens aware of what is safe RPAS use.

During the recent holiday season, up to one million recreational drones were expected to be sold, the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration has stated.