LONDON — Aviation officials admitted Monday they have little idea about what would happen were a drone to get sucked into an airliner’s jet engine during a flight.
The revelation came after a British Airways airline pilot reported a drone struck his plane as he was descending into London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday.
The Airbus A320 aircraft was examined and cleared for its next flight and a spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police said Monday that no arrests had been made.
The incident is part of a snowballing trend.
There were 40 near-misses between drones and manned aircraft in the U.K. last year — up from just nine in 2014. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Authority said pilots reported more than 650 drone sightings in the first eight months of last year, up from 238 during 2014.
However, there have been no live tests to explore just how bad a direct hit from a drone on a jet engine would be, a spokesman for the British government’s Civil Aviation Authority told NBC News on Monday.
“You have got something that’s made of hard materials, and obviously there’s a lithium battery in there too,” the spokesman said. “Whereas a bird is a very different proposition, it’s much softer. So there’s probably a degree of a lack of knowledge about what the cause and effect would be.”
Bird strikes have the potential to cripple jet engines — the most famous example being the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009.
In August, NBC News reported that none of the world’s biggest engine manufacturers had conducted drone-strike tests because they were not mandated by the FAA.
Although no live tests have been conducted, a computer model built by the Virginia Tech College of Engineering in December showed at least a hint of the potential dangers.
“The drone destroys a chunk of the engine’s blades,” the college said of its findings.
Kevin Kochersberger, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Tech, said that the research had been “late in coming,” given the already booming drone industry.
“It’s probably something we should have looked at a few years ago,” he said in a statement accompanying the research.
Unlike the U.S., British drone enthusiasts do not need to register their drones, although the U.K.’s CAA said on Monday that the government would be “carrying out a consultation of future drone regulation in the near future.”