172 Substantially Damaged By Police Drone


All the Canadian authorities are looking into the midair collision of a flight school Cessna 172 and fair-sized drone that could have ended a lot worse than it did. The fact that it happened within a mile of an airport and that the drone operator was a local police department has added some extra attention to the mishap. The Canadian Flyers 172 was substantially damaged in the collision, with major sheet metal damage and an engine teardown mandated because the lower arc of the prop went through the drone. Had it been a few feet higher, the story may have been a lot different but the instructor on board, who assumed the 172 had hit a bird, made a routine landing at Buttonville Airport. 

The instructor and a student had just turned final for Buttonville, which is in the northern part of Toronto, and were set up for landing when they felt a substantial jolt that moved them in their seats. They were about 500 AGL and a mile from the threshold. The landing was normal. “When exiting the aircraft, they were shocked to see a major dent on the left underside of the engine cowling. The airbox was also bent,” said a report from Transport Canada’s Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System (CADORS). “A few hours later, a police detective confirmed a York Regional Police drone had struck their aircraft.” The incident occurred Aug. 10 but didn’t show up in the CADORS until Aug. 18.

The CADORS report classifies the accident as “unauthorized entry” to controlled airspace. It also noted that Nav Canada, the air traffic control provider, was not aware of drone activity in the area. In Canada, drones are banned within 3 nautical miles of uncontrolled airports and restricted to 400 feet AGL without special authorization. To fly in the controlled airspace the drone and aircraft were in, Nav Canada has to approve it and the drone pilot must be in radio contact with controllers. The police department has not commented any further on the mishap except to say the drone was part of a police operation in the area. It hasn’t identified the type of drone involved but there was media coverage when the department acquired its first drone in 2016. That was an Aeryon Ranger which, with payload, weighs 10-12 pounds.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. This particular drone strike occurred near an airport in Canada, while on final. I’m really happy that there were no injuries to the student pilot or instructor from this event. It’s very interesting that the CFI (and evidently mechanics?) didn’t connect this accident with a drone, but instead thought the cause was the impact of a bird strike. I wonder how many other incidents that have a root cause of “bird strike” were actually caused by a drone? Clearly, the risk of a drone strikes to small aircraft is real, though it’s likely we’ll hear nay sayers label this as “just an isolated, rare event”. Kudos for the police department that sent a detective to the airport to inform them of the real cause of the accident. Absent a software cage for the remotely piloted aircraft, it’s easy to see how it could wander 100′ above the 400′ cap. Failure to comply with regulatory pre-notification requirements – that’s another discussion. Do active law enforcement actions allow ‘bending’ or breaking airspace restrictions and other aviation rules? For drone operations, is the 400′ cap determined as feet above the GROUND, or feet above the nearest obstacle within some defined distance?? Is the mandatory ATC coordination distance measured from the nearest exterior boundary of an airport, the runway, the traffic control tower, or the lat/long of the center of the airport? I don’t think I’ve ever seen mention of any clearly defined point, in the US at least, to determine when various maximum altitudes or distances from airports kick in for drone operations, or where exactly coordination with airport management or ATC is required.

    • Given that there are 25 million plus general aviation flight hours per year in the US alone and this is the first time I’ve heard about a drone actually hitting a GA aircraft in the world, let alone the states, other than maybe that military helicopter, I’d say this is about as rare as it gets. Drones have been big business for the last five years or so, so one drone strike that caused no injury in 125 million flight hours is pretty rare to me. If you fly 100 hours per year then you are more likely to get hit by lightning in that year than hit a drone, and with much worse consequences.

    • I got the impression that the CFI initially assumed that it was a bird strike, but may have thought otherwise after he saw the extent of the damage. Note that after exiting the aircraft, both the instructor and the student “…were shocked to see a major dent on the left underside of the engine cowling.”

    • “Kudos” to the police? Are you kidding me?
      Thanks for letting us know you broke the law and we can properly adjudicate this mishap investigation. Now get out of here and continue to violate laws and rights with impunity!
      You frogs don’t even know your pot is bouling over.

  2. I don’t know Canadian drone regulations but in the USA, drones must stay 5 miles away from airports unless they contact ATC or the airport operator before and after a flight. Flying one in the final approach path to an airport is an incredibly dumb thing to do. I’m guessing that the police operator didn’t have a clue what they were doing and should be removed from this kind of duty. GA aircraft can’t see these things in flight because they’re too small, moving quickly relative to the aircraft and may be in a blind spot. Mixing unmanned aircraft with manned aircraft in the same airspace is bound to result in accidents like these until drones are equipped with better “sense and avoid” technology.

    • “ but in the USA, drones must stay 5 miles away from airports”

      Is that 5 miles from the fence line? 5 miles from the center of the runway? 5 miles from the center of the airport?

      • Hopefully it’s from the perimeter fence line! Otherwise, going by the center and out five miles is not going to fully cover many of the larger airports.

  3. Police love these things. They also think that they can fly them anywhere because they can come up with so many “reasons” why police business needed to.

    Very happy that no one died in this public safety drone flight.

  4. To me, the best thing about this, other than the safe outcome, is that the drone was being operated by an “official” person and not some thrill seeking amateur. That’s because it points out that EVERYONE, civilian or government operator, needs to follow proper procedure. Even if the police had justification for operating where they were, they still need to advise ATC officials so they can warn inbound aircraft of the situation. If the police were unaware of the need to do so, or just thought their needs overruled the proper procedures, then maybe their drone “pilot” needs some better training. They can block off the streets to keep a crime scene isolated, but they need to look up and see what is overhead.

  5. Glad to hear of no injuries or fatalities. Near-misses are not reported. I was flying at 1500 agl two miles from the airport and I could swear something whizzed by within 50 feet to my starboard side (pretty sure it wasn’t a bird). But because of speed and the small size of the object, I couldn’t confirm it was a drone. But gets one wondering if how many are actually up there and we’re not aware.

  6. This is all of our fears, fortunately no one was injured or killed but it is coming. The fact is there is big money behind drones, they have bought politicians and if there are more accidents it will be GA that will suffer and have airspace confiscated from us first. Look at what they did to the model airplanes and the restrictions they now have.

  7. >> I wonder how many other incidents that have a root cause of “bird strike” were actually caused by a drone?

    As an A&P mechanic who has participated in the fallout and repairs from more than a few true bird strikes, I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference. Bird strikes involve blood and guts and the distinct smell of dead things. Drone strikes do not.

  8. The main reason police agencies fly drones is for real time surveillance. To do this properly requires a pilot who is usually focused upon a screen or First Person View (FPV) hood, and a spotter who is scanning the airspace for conflicting traffic. Clearly a spotter was either not used in this case, or the spotter was not doing his/her job. Considering the other deficiencies in this particular police operation, it all adds up to reckless operation and/or gross incompetence. I don’t know how drone operations are regulated in Canada, but to operate one commercially in the U.S. requires a special license.

  9. Strange

    I thought GA in Canada was highly regulated.

    1. I would expect government drone pilots to have a credential at least equal to a PPL and have recurrent instruction on drone aviation rules. Certainly US military drone pilots do. I understand that these smaller surveillance drones are very stable in flight and not much skill needed to actually “fly” one.
    2. For safety all drones should be geofenced, with secure software, and broadcasting ADS-B out. With the unit number registered to the owner/operator just like for GA aircraft.

    • Reply to myself since no edit function

      Maybe treat all drones over a certain weight/purpose as “remotely piloted aircraft”. Maybe under 2.5 Kg including batteries and camera limited to 200 ft and 1 mile from operator (hobby toys) all others requiring adequate training to actually be more than toys.

  10. My personal opinion is that all privately operated drones should be limited to very light weights and set up with “electronic tethers” that prevent them from exiting the operator’s clear direct visual range laterally NOT utilizing onboard camera telemetry(a few hundred feet) and vertically limited to within 200’ of the operator’s position.

    A few weeks ago I was climbing through 1700’AGL about 5 miles South of KTTD at about 160 mph and had a near miss (less than 100’) with a turkey-sized drone. Some ignorant jerk standing safely on the ground nearly killed me.

  11. Like Hartsoc I also had a similar incident, except I was on climb out from Oshawa Airport, which coincidently happens to be just 15 mikes away from Buttonville the SUBJECT AIRPORT in this story!!! I was doing 130 kts in my Beech Duke climbing off runway 12 as I turned crosswind (500 ft AGL) I spotted two drones which appeared to be flying in tight formation (a few feet apart) slightly above and to my left. I was about to turn right into them. I broke off the turn and pushed the nose over hard – I missed by less than 100 feet (close enough that I can tell you one was black and one was grey, they were both quad-copters) as they went over my side of the airplane.

    I was chilled to read this article as Buttonville Airport is close neighbour to my airport, and I can tell you I still have chilling images of what it would have been like having one of those come directly through my windshield.

    I reported the incident to ATC immediately at Oshawa (CYOO) but never heard anything about it again, no report was requested, no call from Transport Canada, nada! Now I wonder if my incident might have also involved police drones and whether that’s the reason there was no follow up – no collision, no evidence, so no need to investigate.

    How many other close calls like this have happened without any formal reporting? I have a feeling it isn’t isolated. It would be an interesting survey for AVWEB. I don’t believe in the big sky philosophy

  12. Thinking back over the past several years, my impression is that drone sightings around our uncontrolled field have diminished. The vast majority of such sightings, BTW, have always been reported by ground based observers at and near the airport. Possibly the initial rush to have the latest “new toy” is tapering off, or I suppose it’s even possible the rules are actually trickling down to the general public and being observed.

    Fortunately, inexpensive drones, the type most likely to be owned & flown by the rule ignorant, are small and light enough to make the great majority of collisions survivable, if expensive.

  13. The person flying the drone will face the same penalties/punishment as a “regular” person, right?

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahah! Of course not! And it has nothing to do with Canada vs. any other country. It has to do with big government. Politicians/bureaucrats/tyrants get away with all kinds of things, whereas they will destroy the lives of us peons without giving it a second thought.

  14. A couple of points need to be made:
    1. The “Big Sky” theory is fallacious because that sky is not evenly distributed. All that empty space over Montana doesn’t do a damn bit of good to a pilot in southern California. Pilots in LA are far more likely to have a UAS close encounter of the worst kind because drone operations tend to track population density.
    2. In densely populated areas the airspace is more regulated, keeping aircraft at higher altitudes when not in an approach or departure corridor. Poorly-defined, and unenforced UAS operations in the airspace around an airport provide no protection to legal aircraft operations outside of the traffic pattern, and evidently not even inside the pattern.
    3. We are several years away from any implementation of the NASA LAANC plan for integration of sUAS into ATC. The FAA has consistently underestimated future sUAS ownership*, but currently forecast 1.6 million recreational drones in the air in four years. Add to that a more accurate projection of nearly 1.4 million commercial sUAS, and you have a swarm of 3 million undetectable air-mines floating around in the same airspace that we use to fly to business meetings and pancake breakfasts.
    4. We are at the same place in history as the advent of the automobile. Initially, they were rare, and their slow, noisy approach made them avoidable by animal-drawn vehicles. But they began to pose a physical threat to passengers in the existing installed base of legacy vehicles. This led directly to the invention of the traffic light at intersections in cities, primarily because horse-less vehicles (or more accurately, their drivers) weren’t smart enough not to run into other vehicles.
    5. This particular drone-aircraft collision happened in controlled airspace to competent pilots. Had this happened to me in my 172, I’d be looking to sue all parties responsible. Had it happened to me in my helicopter, I’d be dead.


  15. Near misses are not as uncommon as you may think. I fly an airbus now, I have seen 2 of them dangerously close to us on approach in the last 2 years. One in Tampa, one in New York on downwind to LGA. Take out 6 months of furlough, I was flying another jet and had 2 near misses in that period of time alone. Once in the Ft Lauderdale area and one near for Meyers. The pulsing position lights are usually the giveaway. Otherwise the closure rate is too great to really get a good look at it. Thankfully no collisions.

    Look at this another way, in my short career I have seen 100s of balloons pass by at surprisingly close distances, birds too. The thing with drones, is that they are manned, and people like to fly them close to other things for the view. Buildings, boats etc, what’s to say getting a sweet view of a 172 or 737 on approach is excluded from that desire?

  16. I have a sticker on my truck that says BLUE LIVES MATTER. But all the discussion about various drone regulations in either Canada or the US ignore that police and other enforcement organizations regularly ignore the rules for everyone else, or consider themselves above the law, or at least allowed to bend the laws and regulations. Most of these deviations never make the news, but we have all seen numerous sometimes spectacular examples of local, regional and national law enforcement agencies caught breaking or simply ignoring the rules with serious results from Ruby Ridge, to the Branch Divididians, to framing Trump and his associates to “I can’t breathe”, with terrible consequences. Simply put, cops don’t necessarily follow the rules as is apparent in this instance.
    University Airport at UC Davis, is located about half a mile north of Interstate 80 between Sacramento and the Bay Area with the runway perpendicular to I 80. The landing/departures included patterns across I 80. IDIOT California Highway Patrol pilots regularly flew directly through the landing/take-off pattern at KEDU while doing low altitude patrols along I 80. I had two near misses with CHP planes while in the pattern there. I filed complaints, never heard a word back. So all the regs on the books have not detoured the above the law attitudes of the cops! Now if a drone downed a police aircraft, there would be hell to pay.

  17. Another case of a police UAS colliding with a crewed aircraft happened in British Columbia in February 2020.

    “A collision between an RCMP AS350-B3 helicopter and an RCMP FLIR SkyRanger R60 RPAS (drone) occurred over Wet’suwet’en Nation traditional lands 24 miles southwest of Houston, British Columbia on February 6, 2020 but only revealed to the public via a CADORS report on June 03.

    “The AS-350 was reportedly in cruise flight at less than 300 feet above ground level when the collision with the 2.4 kg drone occurred while it was ascending from below. The RCMP was monitoring the pipeline protests taking place at the time, and the drone was one of two operating in the area.”

    Source: “RCMP Chopper Collides with RCMP Drone”, By Steve Drinkwater – June 11, 2020. COPA news bulletin. copanational.org/en/2020/06/11/rcmp-chopper-collides-with-rcmp-drone/

  18. I believe @Chip’s Horse-Less Carriage analogy is best. The days of VFR flying are numbered. The lobby for Beyond Line of Site (BLOS) Drones is hundreds of times greater then the (nonexistent) General Aviation VFR Pilot lobby. Once the first FAA approved BLOS Drone delivers my pizza… game over for VFR operations. Maybe Class E and Class G airspace will still allow Horse-Less Carriages. 🙁

    • “The lobby for Beyond Line of Site (BLOS) Drones is hundreds of times greater then the (nonexistent) General Aviation VFR Pilot lobby.”

      Not non-existent. It’s the primary reason the AOPA (and to a lesser extent the EAA) was created. But too many people don’t join or angrily drop out because they don’t see enough articles about their favorite PuddleJumper 120.

      AOPA is a lobbying group with a magazine, not the other way around.

  19. And what will the consequences be for the operator? This isn’t the first time a police drone has been involved in a collision with manned aircraft either. Police operations of UAS should have to obey all of the same rules with all of the same penalties as hobbyists or photographers, they should actually be held more accountable since their existence is supposed to be for public safety and when they create a hazard it’s worse than negligent. I don’t care about the use cases for surveillance, police are public servants and need to be treated as such instead of a class above with special privileges and limited personal liability.

  20. This subject always draws its share of naysayers, and some of them are commenting here.

    Call it “pretty rare” if you want, but doing so ignores the “inconvenient truth” that it IS happening, and it will continue to happen. Why? Simply because these drones are relatively inexpensive and readily available to the general public, as well as government agencies, and there’s no guarantee they will be operated responsibly and in compliance with all regulations and guidelines.

    A quick YouTube search will turn up a large number of hits in which someone has videoed his attempt to break his last (or someone elses’) altitude record. Nevermind that there are FAA rules governing when and where they can be flown – we’ve all read the news reports of pilots seeing a drone near their aircraft in the vicinity of an airport. These same YouTube heros think nothing of blasting up through a cloud layer, such that they’ve lost line of sight contact with their drone, and are controlling it solely by means of the first person view they get through their video link with the controller they hold in their hands.

    Anyone who tries to minimize the risk this kind of cavalier attitude poses needs to think again – the risk is real, and it’s only a matter of time until a drone ends up inside a cockpit, with potential disastrous consequences. And, as with guns, it’s not a problem with drones, it’s a people problem, but a problem nonetheless.

    • The risk of a drone causing a fatal aircraft accident exists, but it is not “pretty rare,” it is extremely rare such that it has never happened in something like 200-500 million worldwide flight hours.

      It is certainly worth mitigating it, but any mitigation needs a cost benefit analysis that lives in the reality. All too often we get government interventions that are complete nonsense and costly, because real risk analysis and cost benefit isn’t done.

      Any easy mitigation that would likely pass the cost benefit here would be going after those idiots who post youtube videos of violations and giving them steep fines and community service.

  21. Drone operators are typically not pilots of manned aircraft. The approach the FAA is taking clearly is an attempt at raising consciousness of those who are not. A 107 ticket requires the applicant to know about airspace and where traffic is likely to be encountered. But a 107 is only required for commercial (paid) operators not for hobbyists. Canada seems to require some form of knowledge and licensing.

    Was the police operator required to have a license? Pass a knowledge test or even have knowledge of airspace? Would a police helicopter or airplane pilot be as careless?

    If it were my command I’d have a few butts in chairs in my office doing quite some explaining. Give me your badges and firearms people.

    Russ, if you read this I’d sure enjoy knowing the followup story.