News

Toy had close encounter with Air Canada Boeing 777

A remote-controlled helicopter flew within 60 to 90 feet of an Air Canada Boeing 777 as it approached the north runway at Vancouver International Airport last year, close enough for the pilot and co-pilot to notice it.

In what Transportation Safety Board regional manager Bill Yearwood described as a “close encounter”, the incident occurred at 7:15 a.m. on Friday, March 29, 2013, while the passenger jet was at an altitude of 2,000 feet, on its seven-mile final approach.

Richmond RCMP were called to the scene, but were unable to find the aircraft or its operator.

The toy helicopter did pose a hazard to the plane, and if it had been sucked into one of the plane’s engines, could have resulted in engine failure.

However, since the aircraft is lightweight, and likely battery operated, the danger it posed to a jet’s engine was “not a high risk,” he said.

Yearwood noted that these type of planes, which have become much cheaper to purchase in recent years, can now be operated when out of the direct line-of-sight of the operator thanks to cameras that send images to the operator.

The helicopter was also seen flying at a higher altitude than the crews of subsequent aircraft that morning, which were at an altitude of 1,500 feet.

“Generally speaking, anybody that takes an action that presents a risk to the aviation community, is likely breaking the law or some regulation,” Yearwood said.

The approach and departure phase of an airplane’s landing and taking off is “more critical,” Yearwood said, when asked if the close encounter near the airport posed a greater danger.

Had the helicopter been closer to the passenger jet, the plane’s wake turbulence may have tossed the helicopter out of control, Yearwood said.

A video posted on YouTube by Quadrotor Dragonfly (tinyurl.com/QuadYVR) shows a remote-controlled helicopter soaring hundreds of feet in the air, at the same level as an airplane as it approached Vancouver International Airport. The video was posted last November.

Under current laws, there’s no requirement to get a special permit to operate one of these helicopters if it’s for personal use. But operating them for a business purpose requires the permit, Yearwood said.

The basic rule is anything that creates a risk to aviation, including shining a laser on a plane, is prohibited.

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