Drone Collision Report Issued


In the heat of the chase for an armed suspect, the operator of a Canadian police surveillance drone didn’t tell air traffic control (as required) they were operating near a busy airport in Toronto. The drone collided with a Cessna 172 in August of 2021. According to a Transportation Safety Board report, the York Regional Police pilot told investigators he thought the area about 1.2 nautical miles roughly off the end of Buttonville Airport’s Runway 15 was free of traffic and he put the 13.5-pound DJI Matrice M210 into a hover at 400 feet AGL. The instructor and student in the 172 were on final when they heard and felt a significant impact and assumed they’d hit a bird. They continued the approach and landed normally and discovered the extensive damage to the cowl on the ramp.

The report says the pilots didn’t see the drone and the drone pilot may have been “task saturated.” It also said the spotter the pilot had asked to monitor the drone visually wasn’t trained and didn’t know he was supposed to be able to see the aircraft at all times. Since the mishap, the police force has rewritten its drone procedures to ensure all the rules are followed and that all personnel involved in drone operations are properly trained.

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. With the profliferation of these devices by non-governmental users it’s only a matter of time until the idiots and bad actors saturate the skies with these things as it’s bad enough when government uses them. Glad the 172 got down safely.

    • Really? You don’t think this was yet another case of government folks not having the same incentives not to fail as private operators?

      • What incentive is there when Governments have deep pockets and police are putting “mission success” (and their own safety) as their priority?

  2. Canadian police use a Chinese drone? There is a perfectly good, cheaper and much lighter French alternative from Parrot.
    Even if it hit a plane it would do hardly any damage, weighing around 400 grammes.
    Assuming it was some tinpot local police, not the RCMP, who have been leading the way in finding Chinese spies.

    • Do you have data or a citation for your ‘it would do hardly any damage’ statement? 400 grams (nearly one pound) at pattern speeds (or higher) in a light aircraft would do considerable damage to the airplane, particularly if it struck a windscreen, strut, control surface, prop, turbine inlet… anything, actually. The consequences could be disastrous.

      As another poster indicated, it is impossible to see and avoid a drone. Keep your drones away from me and my students and completely the heck away from ANY flight path. It’s only a matter of time before some clueless drone pilot manages to bring down an aircraft. No, I don’t have a citation for that… it’s a prediction based on bird-strike evidence.

    • This story is 2 paragraphs long. From that you have been able to discern that the police have used an inferior drone, one that weighs 13.5 pounds and should have used one that weighs 400 grams (one pound) because you are an expert on police drone surveillance? The feature set of the 400 gram drone is the same as one that weighs 13 pounds? Like Bruce S. said, do you have any evidence of that?

      The York Regional police is a pretty large force with 1600 officers and 600 civilians – not quite a tin-pot force. Again, a bit thoughtless on your part.

      Here’s a thought – take a pause and “think” about whether your posts add useful information to a story before you shoot from the hip.

      • I am sure the York police are proud to be flying Chinese drones.
        With drones, after the wow, look at how they go up down, left and right and all combinations in-between, you quickly reach the stage, of asking “what are they good for.”
        If you want to use them to take pictures and record video, as York Police were doing, do you really in 2023, need a whopping big one when small ones do the job, perhaps better (and with brighter strobes)?

  3. The problem with drones… you can’t see them in a hover from the air. From the ground you can see the dot in the sky. When a drone isn’t moving. In blends perfectly into the ground clutter. You will not be able to see or avoid it.
    There was a guy playing with a drone 800 ft from the approach end of a runway where helicopters were landing.
    I saw the drone from the ground. I knew the pilots for one of the helicopters making an approach to land right over the drone. When I asked the pilots that flew feet from it if they saw it, they said they saw nothing.
    This is like shooting at aircraft in the sky… and sentences in a federal prison should be commensurate.

    • As a helicopter pilot, I consider such surveillance/delivery/toy drones, “air mines”. They operate in the exact same airspace as my live-meat-carrying chopper, are impossible to see before collision, and are far easier to replace than my pax or myself. The drone operator, on the other hand, goes home to supper and the next day buys another mine.

      How are we supposed to see-and-avoid the invisible? IMNSHO, any drone operator that has an inflight collision with an aircraft should be charged with negligent homicide. (Attempted homicide, one hopes.)

      A more satisfying solution would be to incorporate into every drone controller a small quantity of C-4 that would detonate upon the inflight destruction of the drone. Fair is fair.

      • These “Surveillance” drones should have huge strobe-lights that are visible for 5 miles. Of course that negates there surveillance usefulness so police will continue to operate them invisibly and at will regardless of the death and injury to pilots. Canada is now run by hosers.

  4. Extremely lucky. Mere feet from killing the pilots and endangering who knows how many people on the ground. Being a law enforcement failure, I doubt the operator will face any serious repercussions for this. This is unfortunate, the operator should face the full consequences that a negligent hobbyist would, if not worse owing to the fact that it is a far larger and heavier drone than most hobbyists will ever touch, and as a result it has more potential for aircraft damage and danger to those on the ground as it rains down in pieces after being smashed.

    • Agree. Hopefully, Transport Canada looks at giving the PIC a serious fine, even though it might end up getting paid by the police department.

    • The police “don’t care” anymore since they are now putting mission success as their primary goal. Even their body armored uniforms and weaponry are for crushing; not for de-escalating. Police departments will just order more “invisible” surveillance drones in order for “mission success”. Yea, it’s that bad now.

  5. This report is sadly a missed opportunity to provide a thorough analysis of risks around drone operations. The human factors analysis is very shallow and there’s no real mention of automation management. It took almost 18 months to produce a report on a fairly straightforward accident and this is all we get? I’d be curious to look at their investigative and reporting guidance since the report also lacks any meaningful recommendations. Nothing against the investigator, but this should have been investigated by a pilot who has operational flying experience. The reason it may have made a difference is that the report alludes to the C172 pilots sharing some of the sense-and-avoid responsibilities even though they do not. The regulation and guidance (TC-AIM) are quite clear about the drone pilot being solely responsible for conflict and collision avoidance. Reports usually go through rounds of review with external agencies so I’m not sure how this was missed, but it provides a false view of the operational setting.

    • Also forgot to mention, the 1991 quote from Australia is completely irrelevant given the roles and responsibilities I mentioned above. Poor report overall.

  6. Reading the actual report, I’m impressed with the investigation and their unvarnished findings. A ton of great lessons learned in there. Screen watching is the Achilles Heel of drone operations around manned aircraft, in my opinion.

  7. This is not about screen watching or any other sort of deep soul searching. This is about sheer incompetence and nothing else. Our police were using a drone a few hundred feet off the approach end of a runway without taking any precautions. The level of recklessness is astounding and of course there are basically no repercussions for the operator. I base my 172 at this airport, and seeing this happen is just beyond frustrating

    • No, it’s about law enforcement putting their perceived job above that of your life. Basically this is a continuation of the militarization of local police to try and mirror delta force operators (where mission is above loss of civilian life). They need to step it down and remember to serve and protect.

        • Makes me feel like a broken clock, but yea. Once they get law enforcement spooled up these days there is no reverse and they will only keep escalating. The scary part is that incompetence, when coupled with full military mindset and tools, is deadly to civilians.

  8. Very thorough report. The failure of the drone operator to go through the official authorization process seems to be mostly superfluous in the accident chain, as the operator purportedly did check all the other major procedural boxes, just didn’t carry out the associated actions correctly/effectively. You can bet if he continues in the work, he’ll never skimp on that stuff again.

    As usual, a few key factors are left unexplained, such as why did the operator (and others) not hear the radio calls from the aircraft, and why the aircraft was at 400 AGL over a residential area that far from the TDZ.

    • Oh, as long as no law enforcement lives are being lost and newer drones are available, it will keep happening. No one is going to take away stealth surveillance drones form local law enforcement.

  9. According to the DJI web page, the DJI Matrice M210 drone used here weighs in at 10.34 pounds/4.69kg. Without accessories.

    If you hit that thing you are going to know it.

  10. I took a local news reporter aloft several years ago when Houston HPD were first reporting on “testing” surveillance drones. I pointed out that because of the Bravo airspace, most VFR traffic around the city would also be below 2000′. Point being is that the chances of me and my family of never see these things would be next to nill. They ran the story on local 2 News and the police STOPPED (letting us know about their continued testing in the area…).