Many drone collisions or near misses with passenger jets have been reported in the past, but so far, all those cases were dismissed after serious investigation. The latest speculation reports that a drone slammed into a Mexican airliner two days ago.
On December 12, an Aeromexico Boeing 737-800 from Guadalajara to Tijuana, registration XA-ADV, was on final approach to Tijuana's runway 09 when its radome (nose) received damage. The twin-jet engine airliners continued for a safe landing, but self-proclaimed aviation experts and some ignorant media are already reporting that a drone might have collided with the plane despite the complete lack of evidence. At this point, the drone collision is pure speculation.
Based on this recording of the radio communication between the air traffic control and the crew, the pilots mentioned the possibility of birds strike before adding that they "didn't see anything." The airport of Tijuana is located right next to the U.S. border and the approach path to the runway 09 must be flow over USA. North of the border, this area is covered by a FAA notam which prohibits the use of drone in this airspace from the ground up to 2,000 feet. The aircraft rolled out of the Seattle Boeing factory in 2001 and served with the Irish low cost airline Ryanair before being used by Garuda in Indonesia and Aeromexico nowadays.
To be honest, it is only a matter of time before a drone collides with a jetliner, but to my knowledge, it hasn't happened yet. To date, the only documented drone-related collision happened in New York City when a DJI Phantrom drone hit a military UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. The helicopter was able to land safely following the unfortunate encounter.
Another incident was recorded in Canada in 2016 when a small, eight-passenger Beechcraft King Air A100 reportedly hit a drone during approach. According to the official investigation report, “the flight crew observed a drone, about the size of a dinner plate, in front of the left wing. The pilot had no time to take evasive action. The impact was unavoidable, and the drone disintegrated.” However the “impact” only caused a minor dent in the left wing and the aircraft was able to return to service on that same day. The investigation “was unable to identify the operator of the drone involved in the collision with the aircraft. No debris from the drone could be found.”
Besides that, plenty of other so-called drone collisions never resisted serious analysis. A few years ago in the United Kingdom, a widely publicized incident reported by an A320 pilots may have been caused by a “plastic bag.”
As for this incident in Mexico, the few available images don’t show any sign of drone debris. It doesn't prove anything at this point, as collision have specific dynamics due to the complex airflow around the aircraft. Sometime, very few remains are found, especially with bird collisions. In 2017, a similar case occurred in Mozambique when another Boeing 737 received damage on its radome during approach. At the time, the LAM airline and media talked about a drone collision, but the official investigation discarded this explanation and concluded that a “material failure” caused the nose damage.
As usual, this type of speculation will surely fuel the fire of the anti-drone crowd, but a modicum of decency should be observed, as recent history shows that all the previous drone collision reports with passenger jets were false or misinterpreted. A little bit of intellectual honesty goes a long way. Usually, by the time the official report is released a few month later, no one bothers to correct the wrong initial statement. A drone may or may not have have caused this incident, but it is too early to tell at this point. I will follow up if any substantial evidence is found, one way or the other.
Looks like a relatively common structural failure of the Radome. As noted in one links, they are very thin anyway.
Non-news event until something is proven. Headlines like this one don't help though FS, please don't pull the Petapixel Tabloid line.
Thank you for writing this. Nice to see some facts published about this issue for a change.
The modern retelling of "the boy who cried wolf" could be "the publications who cried drone" (which unfortunately includes FStoppers). Well done for swimming against that strong tide!
Say what you like about the boy who cried wolf, but at least he died doing what he loved.