Australian Drone Misses Helicopter by Less Than Ten Feet

Drone Near Miss less than ten feet

A helicopter carrying five passengers missed a drone operating less than ten feet below the altitude of the helicopter as it flew over a beach during a coastal flight on July 9th, sparking renewed calls for increased penalties.

In footage released to Australian Television network 7 News, Sydney, a DJI Phantom drone flies less than ten feet under a helicopter that is captured in video footage shot Saturday July 8th, 2017, as a small dot quickly approaching from directly in front of the helicopter at a similar altitude quickly becomes identifiable as a drone. The helicopter, flying southbound along the beach in Coogee, New South Wales on a route called the “Sydney helicopter 5 route” had no time to react as the drone captured in video footage passes underneath the helicopter at an estimated separation of less than ten feet below the helicopter.

The unidentified pilot of the helicopter posted the video footage after the near miss to social media with a warning aimed at other hobby drone operators that “It is only a matter of time before a collision takes place” according to a Channel 7 news story that aired on the networks nightly news broadcast Sunday. Pilot concern over hobby drone operations has escalated recently with several incidents involving emergency service helicopters that have also reported several near misses in recent months, including two incidents with the Gold Coast based Westpac LifeSaver helicopter that had also reported coming within ten feet of a drone operated within the last 30 days.

“This is a big, big wake up call to anyone flying drones. It’s their responsibility to follow the rules at all times” said Peter Gibson, a representative for Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in relation to Sunday’s incident in an interview with Channel 7 Sydney. 

Australian drone regulations are less strict than in many other nations, with fines for improper usage that could endanger others ranging from $900 to $9000 depending on the severity of the offense. To date, drone regulations that currently carry no threat of imprisonment for improper or dangerous use have rarely been used to fine a drone operator as the incidents to date that have involved helicopters have been helicopters in the process of performing a mission, making it unsuitable for the helicopter to assist by staying in the area to assist law enforcement with apprehending the operators involved. A recent incident involving a Westpac rescue helicopter on March 26th of this year forced the helicopter to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a drone flying at 1000 feet.

A Westpac Rescue helicopter similar to the pictured AW139 above was involved in a recent near miss incident when a drone was seen flying at 1000 feet. Photo by Max Mason-Hubers.
A Westpac Rescue helicopter similar to the pictured AW139 above was involved in a recent near miss incident when a drone was seen flying at 1000 feet. Photo by Max Mason-Hubers.

“There is very little doubt indeed that that aircraft would have been brought out of the sky” said Stephen Leahy from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, after reviewing the footage of Saturday’s incident. Westpac Rescue helicopters in multiple states have been involved in near miss accidents more than other operations due to the frequency of flights some of the helicopters fly over coastal areas performing shark patrols in areas popular also for drone operators. Australian regulations mirror those of the U.S in some aspects; Australian authorities also restricting drone flights to a 400 foot ceiling. However, in contrast to the wide reaching punishments available to use as consequences in the United States, Australia has more lax penalties for improper use and does not require hobby drone operators to register their drones with Australia’s CASA, as was the practice until recently with UAV and drone operations in the USA.

Video courtesy Channel 7.

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