The report of an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, near an airplane attempting to land at the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) is just one of dozens of incidents reported within the last year.
On Tuesday, WestJet pilots reported a drone to Nav Canada. Airline spokesperson Morgan Bell said the plane was approximately 6,000 feet above sea level and the “pallet-sized” drone was spotted 2,000 below the left wing.
Accounting for EIA’s elevation above sea level, the drone was reported at 1,628 feet above ground level, or 496 metres. That is roughly twice the height of the Stantec Tower, which will be Edmonton’s tallest building.
According to information from the Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS), there were 130 reports from across the country of drones near planes from Aug. 1, 2017 to Aug. 2, 2018.
One incident on July 25 involved a plane heading to the Edmonton airport and reporting a drone at around 2,700 feet above ground level. Three of the 130 incidents — including the one this week — were reported in Edmonton.
The drone was “quite high,” according to Nav Canada spokesperson Rob Singer. It was “in airspace and altitude it was not authorized” to be in, he said.
Transport Canada has restrictions on where drones can be flown and how high they can go. Typically, they must stay below 90 metres above the ground, though exceptions can be made to those who apply for special permission from the government agency.
Singer said the drone would have needed permission to be close to the airspace and that was not authorized.
Nav Canada reported Tuesday’s incident to Edmonton police because it took place over city airspace, which is EPS jurisdiction.
“If you’re using them recreationally, we want to make sure you’re up to speed with what’s expected of you and Transport Canada certainly has a whole list of guidelines,” police spokesperson Scott Pattison said.
The plane was flying over southwest Edmonton as it lined up to land at EIA, which Pattison said was especially concerning given how densely populated the area is.
“It’s extremely dangerous when you consider the consequences of a flying object that size coming into contact with the airplane.
“Not only is it dangerous for everybody on the plane but certainly when you’re over a southwest neighbourhood — south of the Hamptons at last report — all of those lives are in jeopardy on the ground too.”
Mat Matthews, owner of BlackHawk Aeronautical Solutions, has been operating commercial drones for 11 years. He admits he is slightly skeptical of the report.
“I find it very challenging to hear somebody actually chose to go that high with a drone and also to be in the flight corridor of any commercial airliner coming into the airport,” he said.
“Some of these incidents that are actually identified or initially identified as a drone turn out to be false.”
Matthews also said there are some restrictions on drones when they fly to that altitude.
“When you get up that high as well, you got some pretty high winds you got to contend with, so most of the consumer grade drones are just not going to be able to handle the wind that well.”
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