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Canada Minor damage after drone hits commercial plane near Quebec City's airport: Garneau

Transport Minister Marc Graneau stands during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, on Oct. 3, 2017.

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A collision between a commercial aircraft and a drone near Quebec City's airport last week highlights the potential danger posed by unmanned aerial vehicles, authorities and airline experts said Sunday.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the incident occurred on Thursday when a Skyjet plane was struck by a drone as it approached the Jean Lesage airport.

"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 said in a news release.

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An airport spokesman said the plane was arriving from Rouyn-Noranda with eight people aboard when it was struck about three kilometres from the airport.

Mathieu Claise said the plane landed safely, but he couldn't comment on the condition of the aircraft or the passengers.

Greg McConnell, the national chairperson of the Canadian Federal Pilots' Association, said the incident "was just a matter of time."

"There are a lot of drones flying, and there are a lot of people flying drones thinking they're toys," he said in a phone interview.

He said that if a bird hitting an airplane engine can cause an emergency landing or "catastrophic event," a drone could do the same.

Transport Canada has issued a series of interim safety measures for drone operators as it continues to work to regulate the industry.

Under these rules, it is illegal to fly a recreational drone within 5.5 kilometres from an airport and 1.8 kilometres from a heliport without special permission.

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McConnell says he's glad the federal government is taking steps to regulate drones, though he wonders why it seems to be taking so long.

"These things have been around since the 1990s," he said. "Let's get a move on."

While the damage from Thursday's collision appears to have been minor, Garneau said his department was taking the incident seriously.

He said they were following the situation in partnership with airport officials, Quebec City police, NAV CANADA and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The news release stated that anyone who is found to have endangered the safety of an aircraft could face a $25,000 fine or prison time.

It said 1,596 drone incidents have been reported to Transport Canada in 2017, and 131 of them were deemed aviation safety concerns.

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