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Canada's transport chief confirms aircraft-drone collision

Canada's Transport minister has confirmed that a small passenger aircraft struck a drone while on approach to Quebec City on 12 October.

Though investigators have released few details, the incident, if true, could prove notable because previous incidents of suspected impacts between drones and commercial aircraft have turned out false.

"On 12 October 2017, a Skyjet flight was struck by a drone while inbound to Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City," Canadian transport minister Marc Garneau says in a statement released by Transport Canada on 15 October.

"This is the first time a drone has hit a commercial aircraft in Canada and I am extremely relieved that the aircraft only sustained minor damage and was able to land safely," he adds.

The drone hit the nose of the aircraft, which was a Beechcraft King Air A100 operated by charter company Skyjet Aviation, according to Transport Canada's online incident database.

Transport Canada has since told FlightGlobal that the King Air's pilots reported the incident.

"The pilot of a Skyjet passenger aircraft reported being hit on the left wing by a bright yellow drone," says the agency in a statement. Transport Canada did not clarify if investigators recovered other evidence, such as drone wreckage.

The pilots said the drone had dimensions of about 0.4 x 0.1m (16 x 4in), and the collision happened about between 1,500ft and 1,700ft altitude as the aircraft was on final approach to Quebec City, Transport Canada's statement adds.

Those figures differ slightly from those in the agency's incident database, which says the collision occurred at 2,400ft altitude. The database says the aircraft was about 6.1nm (11.3km) from the runway at the time of impact.

"The plane sustained minor damage but landed safely and no one was injured," Transport Canada's statement says.

Canada's independent safety investigator agency, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, tells FlightGlobal it is "assessing… and gathering information" about the incident and could decide later this week whether to open an investigation.

A representative from Skyjet confirms one of its aircraft hit a drone, but declines to provide additional information.

Encounters between commercial aircraft and drones have spiked in recent years amid a surge in the popularity of unmanned aircraft.

In the first three months of 2017, aircraft in the US reported more than 400 sightings of drones, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's most-recent drone "sightings" report.

Despite all those sightings, however, an FAA spokesperson says the only actual drone-aircraft collision she knows of in the USA occurred last month and involved a US Army helicopter.

According to reports, that incident occurred on 21 September when an army Sikorsky UH-60 helicopter collided with a drone over Staten Island in New York City, according to reports. The aircraft landed safely.

In other instances, collisions suspected of involving drones turned out false.

Those include a Socata TB10 light training aircraft that suffered wing damage in July after hitting something assumed to be a drone.

Weeks later, Australian investigators determined the aircraft struck grey-headed flying fox, FlightGlobal reported.

Story updated on 16 October to include details contained in a statement provided to FlightGlobal by Transport Canada.

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