• Mozambique Airlines (LAM) reported that flight TM136 was struck by an alleged drone on landing
  • Damage occurred to the fuselage in the form of dents and scrapes along the hull
  • The Boeing 737-700 is undergoing maintenance with official verification of the incident yet to be released

Flight TM136 (reg. C9-BAQ), one of Mozambique Airlines (LAM) Boeing 737-700s has collided with a drone on its approach to Tete Airport (TCV), Mozambique, Africa.

drone strike closeup
The collision apparently made a loud enough bang for cabin crew to hear, however they managed to land it safely.

The incident occurred on January 5th, with 80 passengers on board and 6 crew members flying in from the Capital, Maputo.

The Airline was allegedly on its final approach towards landing when a loud crash was heard, and the pilots made note of the collision. The plane was successfully landed, and upon further inspection significant damage was found to the right of the dome.

(Loosely) Translated:
“Information on the flight #TM136
Lam – Mozambican Airlines, S.A. communicates that the aircraft Boeing 737-700 that yesterday, the 5th of January 2017, held the flight TM136, taking off from maputo at 15:35 hours and arrived in Tete at 17:15 hours, with 80 passengers and 6 crew members, has suffered damage on the right side of the front part of the fuselage.

This was confirmed in the act of a routine survey that the crew makes to the aircraft after the landing. However, the damage was recorded, the moment the pilots started the process of approaching the landing for Tete Airport.

At that moment, the crew heard a loud bang, which alerted about the possibility of the aircraft have had contact with an external body. Even so, this did not upset the normal conduct of the flight until landing.

Due to the re-engineering of the aircraft, the passengers were relocated to another aircraft which transported the passengers from Tete to Maputo.

With regard to the incident the Boeing 737-700’s will face replacement of the parts that have suffered damage, and appropriate procedures from the regulatory body for for situations such as this.

drone strike side
The type and size of the drone is yet to be determined, as the pilots never actually got a visual identification of the object.

Could a drone really cause this much damage?

The short answer is yes. A combination of speed, weight and the position of the impact could certainly result in quite a large amount of damage to the plane.

Keep in mind that the front ‘dome’ of the plane’s fuselage usually contains radar and other signal equipment, and as a result may not be as resistant to damage as other sections of the aircraft may be.

To further investigate LAM’s claim that a drone could cause this much damage to an aircraft, we contacted a qualified pilot who wished to remain anonymous during the investigation stage: “The scratch marks down the side of the nose suggest it was something mechanical, not wild life.” 

Regarding the incident, the pilot suggested birds (sometimes referred to as a birdstrike, bird ingestion or BASH Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) can and have done much more damage to planes, with recent drone sightings a very real threat at some of the world’s most busiest airports.

Possibly, 2017 will see the term DASH become more commonplace, with Drone Aircraft Strike Hazard increasing relative to the massive commercial drone use and sales.

Bird Strike Comparison

To put things in perspective, here is the kind of damage fluffy birds can do to a plane (warning: some images may be graphic).

bird strike plane
Given the damage birds can do, there’s no denying drones can mean a dangerous object for planes and pilots.
bird strike plane
Bird strikes like this one have been known to rip metal to shreds given enough speed and weight.
bird strike plane
Sometimes planes come in contact with whole groups of birds, causing significant damage.
bird strike plane
Birds have been hitting planes for years, with little protection to the front dome of the aircraft.

Aptly enough, drones have even been referred to as mechanical geese from hell, with the effects of drone strikes on planes being closely studied and experimented in an incredibly insightful article showing the experiments they ran, the analysis and expert opinions on the matter.

drone strike helicopter
A collision between a helicopter and a small commercial drone shows the damage it poses to light aircraft (Source: PopularMechanics)

Should we simply cast drones into the same pot as bird strikes, or acknowledge that drones in their mechanical goodness actually pose a larger safety threat to aircraft passengers and crew? With nearly no clear defense against birds, will the drone sector be able to provide a solution against drones that may prove effective for airlines (and not just around airports!)

There are many questions to be answered, however considering the small size, speed and ability of even commercial drones such as the DJI Phantom 4, it’s an area that deserves active attention to deter events such as #TM136 becoming even more hazardous.

LAM has been contacted for their comments on this story, with further updates pending.