Drone flying 20ft from passenger jet was at 'serious risk of collision', say investigators

The pilot reported seeing a small, black, helicopter-like object flying near the wing of his aircraft in July

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The Independent Online

A near-miss report investigating how a drone was able to come within feet of a passenger jet as it prepared to land at Heathrow Airport, has concluded there had been “a serious risk of collision.”

Investigators compiling the report expressed their “considerable concern” after an object believed to be a drone was able to come within 20ft of the aircraft.

During the incident at 2.16pm on 22 July, the pilot reported seeing a small, black, radio-controlled helicopter “about 20ft” over the left wing of the Airbus A320, as it was 700ft from landing, according to a report by the UK Airprox (aircraft proximity) Board (UKAB).

And as the model helicopter was so small, it did not appear on the aircraft's radar, the pilot said.

Luckily, the object did not strike the plane and the pilot was able to make a normal landing.

However, the report warned that the object had distracted the pilot during a critical phase of the flight.

After the pilot notified air traffic controllers of what he spotted, following aircrafts were notified.

Using information from the A320 pilot, as well as radar photographs and video recordings, to compile the report, the UKAB gave the incident an A rating - meaning that there had been “a serious risk of collision”.

Board members were satisfied that the aircraft's crew had seen the model helicopter, and decided unanimously that its operator had chosen to fly at what they called an entirely inappropriate location.

But despite extensive attempts to trace the operator of the model aircraft, with help from local model flying club members, the culprit has not been found, the body said.

The report did not say which carrier was operating the Airbus nor where the Airbus had flown in from.

It added that it was "a cause for considerable concern" for the board that the drone's operator did not realise flying in such close proximity to a commercial aircraft in its final stages of landing was dangerous.

"UKAB members reiterated that anyone operating an air vehicle, of whatever kind, had to do so with due consideration for regulation and for other airspace users, and preferably under the auspices of an established association or club," the document read.

It also praised the work of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who brought the issue of drone operation to wider public attention.

The report comes after Balpa, the airline pilot’s association, demanded protection for the public against the risks of drones, which it wants to meet the same safety standards as piloted aircraft.  It also wants the machines to only be flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training.

Drones have been rapidly gaining popularity recently, and are a highly-sought after Christmas present this year. London department store Selfridges alone sold more than 100,000 Q4 Nano drones — around the size of a Jammie Dodger — via its concession Red 5 this year, the Evening Standard reported.

In October, Birmingham University warned the use of drones in the UK would rise over the next 20 years, which in turn raised "significant safety, security, and privacy concerns".

Additional reporting by PA