‘Ottawa’ Near-collision with Possible Drone Injures Crew Members on Porter Flight from Ottawa
Two crew members were injured Monday after a Porter flight from Ottawa had to evade what may have been a drone as it began its initial approach to land at Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokeswoman Julie Leroux said Porter flight 204 was about 55 km from the airport at 7:30 a.m. when it encountered what may have been an unmanned aerial vehicle at about 9,000 feet.
In an emailed statement, Porter Airlines said there was no contact between the Dash 8 airplane and the object.
According to the airline, the pilots initially thought the object looked like a balloon. Upon later review, they believed the object might have been a drone.
Porter said the plane was over Lake Ontario near Pickering when the pilots first noticed the object in the distance.
“As they approached the object, they realized it was very close to their flight path and decided to take appropriate evasive action,” said the statement from the airline.
Peter Rowntree, a senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said the aircraft and the object were “very close” as the airplane ducked under it.
Porter said two flight attendants, who were securing the cabin for landing and were not in their seats, suffered minor injuries, and were taken to hospital and released. Porter said there were 54 passengers aboard the plane, but there were no reported passenger injuries.
The TSB is sending a team of investigators to look into what it described as a “risk of collision.”
The plane is still in Toronto, Leroux said. TSB investigators were expected to interview the crew Monday.
The cockpit voice records and the flight-data recorder have been taken for analysis to determine how much the aircraft descended in its “very quick evasive action,” Rowntree said.
“We may never be able to determine what exactly they saw,” he said.
Mark Aruja, president of Unmanned Systems Canada, said there are drones that can reach that height, but nobody should have any reason to fly them there.
“There is nothing commercial that you can do at 9,000 feet,” said Aruja. “A professional operator, first of all, wouldn’t have approval to be there and wouldn’t do it anyway because they’d put their business at risk.”
If it was a drone being flown by a recreational user, they were being reckless, he said.
Roger Williams, president of the Model Aeronautics Association of Canada, said it would be very unusual for someone to be flying a drone at that altitude and over Lake Ontario.
“I don’t know why anyone would be at 9,000 feet with a drone,” said Williams. “You couldn’t see it if you were standing on the ground at 9,000 feet.”
Williams said if it was a drone, it may have gone “rogue” and been malfunctioning.
It would not be the first time commercial airlines have had close calls with drones.
NORAD scrambled a pair of CF-18 fighter jets in May after a large, unidentified drone was spotted near the flight paths of commercial passenger planes landing at the Ottawa airport.
The two fighters from CFB Bagotville were sent to Ottawa after a WestJet pilot noticed the drone flying at about 6,700 feet at about 4:45 p.m. on May 25. An Air Canada pilot confirmed the drone sighting minutes later. Both flights were arriving at Ottawa from Toronto.
Less than three weeks later, there was another close call at the airport in Winnipeg when a drone flew within 25 metres of a landing plane.
Transport Canada investigated 82 drone incidents between January and the end of August of this year. Last year, there were 97 drone incidents, which was up from 2013, when just six incidents were investigated. There were 61 in 2014.
Under the Aeronautics Act, anyone who violates controlled or restricted airspace or endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be subject to fines of up to $25,000 and/or time in jail, said Transport Canada.
Transport Canada guidelines recommend that users not fly higher than 90 metres (or the height of a 30-storey building) and that users stay more than nine km away from airports.
Anyone using a drone for commercial or research purposes, or those with drones that weigh more than 35 kg, must have a special flight operations certificate.
With files from The Canadian Press