Sky Sail and Helicopter in 'Near Miss': A Danger to Aircraft?

Sky Sails boat propulsion photo

Image credit: Sky Sails

It's been a while since we heard about Sky Sails kite propulsion system, which was promising that its retrofitted system could save anywhere between 20-40% on fuel costs on your average ship. (You can check out video of Sky Sails in action too.) While progress seems to have been good (three new ships were fitted with Sky Sails in August) , their latest press release does point to a minor glitch. Helicopters. It seems that on the 15th of September a helicopter deployed to supply a drilling platform in the Baltic Sea spotted the Sky Sails system and reported a "near miss incident" to Dutch Air Traffic control.

At first glance, it would make sense that helicopter pilots and others might be concerned about these systems - after all, the last thing you expect to see when flying over open ocean is a kite! But Sky Sails are less impressed, arguing that "Class G air-space below 2500 feet (800 m). This is recognized as uncontrolled airspace where visual flight rules (VFR) apply. The SkySails-System is easily recognizable during daylight because of its size and has lighting when flown at night. The system operates within the ship's safety zone, which low-flying aircraft - including military aircraft - must avoid pursuant to regulations."

The company also states that information is provided to the aviation authorities of the states being passed to ensure that all pilots are informed that a system is being used.

Incidentally, the captain of the ship flying the kite stated that the helicopter never came close to the kite, but flew past the ship first at "a great distance and then circled the ship several times. The helicopter maintained adequate distance from the vessel while doing so. No radio contact was established." Was the pilot ever really at risk, or did someone just get out of the wrong side of bed before donning their flight helmet?

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