How dangerous are fireworks to aircraft?

Inspired by the recent events in Egypt and the fireworks displays this time of year - got me to thinking, how much of a risk would a bunch of commercial fireworks pose to an aircraft?

Obviously aircraft typically fly much higher than the altitude of a display, but if a nefarious individual set a load off at the end of a runway when a plane is taking off or landing what are the chances of serious damage being done?

Physical damage? None at all. There isn’t any shrapnel in fireworks, so there won’t be any penetrating damage.

Distracting a pilot on takeoff or landing, OTOH, can cause problems.

On the gripping hand, we used to try to hit private aircraft coming in for a landing at Valdez, AK on the 4th of July with bottle rockets. Never got within a hundred feet of a plane, and the pilots I talked to later at the bar were more amused than concerned.

As a pilot, I would not be amused if you were shooting bottle rockets at my plane. I would report the incident to ATC who would likely forward the report to the local police. It is the same with lasers.

Even at the end of a runway, most aircraft are well above the height of most fireworks unless it’s a very short runway or the aircraft is heavily loaded. So you’d have to be on the runway or to one side of it.

Years ago I use to build model rockets which could go well over a thousand feet. I also was living on a US Air Force base. I did NOT launch my rockets any where near the base. Now days there are some really powerful model rockets and I believe that there are rules about where you can launch them.

I often land on an 11,000-foot runway and when crossing the threshold, I am less than 100 feet above the ground. During takeoff on the same runway I could be 500-1000 feet over the departure end depending on weight, wind and temperature.

Both are certainly in the range of fireworks.

Commercial fireworks top out at around 500 foot burst height and 750 foot max altitude of burning fragments. The super big stuff for national-scale celebrations is a bit bigger & the small-town stuff a bit smaller.

For round numbers aircraft on approach of any type are descending at 300 feet per mile, so the radius of danger is 0 to 3 miles from the end of the runway. Takeoffs & departures tend to be steeper so the radius of risk is more like 0 to 2 miles.

Could you cause minor damage from shooting fireworks in that area and hitting an aircraft? Sure. Would you get reported immediately and investigated pretty promptly, at least in First World cities? You bet.

The police departments which have big jet airports in their jurisdictions are used to these kinds of problems. Supporting the airport in doing whatever to prevent a mass casualty event when an airplane drops into their housing developments is a recognized mission for these departments.

If an exploding shell got inhaled by a jet engine, well, that certainly wouldn’t be good. But fireworks have no shrapnel. And there’s no way then can be accurately aimed. Distraction of the pilots would probably be the greatest danger from them.

My dad lives in the western outskirts of Phoenix. A couple times a year the serious rocketry enthusiasts meet a few miles south of his place to launch the good stuff. I think they have an FAA waiver up to 10,000 or 15,000 feet. For those who outgrow that, there’s a meet in the Black Rock Desert that’s cleared even higher.

Thanks for the replies fellas (particularly Doper pilots), it was particularly the idea of them getting sucked into jet engines I thought might do some serious damage. Is there any danger they could screw with the aircraft’s instruments?

Birds don’t have any shrapnel either, yet they bring down planes.

But fireworks, once exploded, are basically ash, almost no mass and almost no kinetic energy. Hard to imagine it could do any damage.

If they get sucked in before exploding, I suppose there’s a little more risk. I again think it wouldn’t be much mass wise, I don’t think they have any parts that aren’t paper or propellant.

I suppose there might be some slight risk if there is a source of ignition somewhere other than where it’s supposed to be.