Safety should always be a concern when dealing with drones – both for the owner and the people in the machine’s vicinity. A drone incident in Heathrow Airport, London has led to growing concerns about these flying machines and the responsibility the owners have when flying them in an area where the skies are always busy.
A passenger plane had an incredibly risky encounter with a drone that threatened the safety of the 165 passengers on board. The plane, an Airbus A321, was approaching its descent at Heathrow when the crew spotted the drone in the area. At 1,700ft, the plane was nearing its landing area when the troubles began.
The drone, which was identified as a “three to four engine drone” was spotted by the flight’s first officer mere 5 feet away from the plane, leaving little to no room for navigation and countermeasures from the plane’s end. The plane did not have enough time or distance to create a change in the flight, and the plane avoiding collision with the drone was solely credited to luck. The drone was thought to have flown near enough that it could have crashed into the plane’s tail.
By the end, the plane landed safely at Heathrow Airport, barely avoiding a catastrophic crash landing that would have been the headlines of newspapers everywhere. Luckily, the drone missed completely and the plane did not show any signs of damage upon closer inspection by the airport crew. The engineers who went in to survey any damage were quoted saying that the Airbus had “no tangible evidence of collision”.
Reports among the airport staff and management mentioned that the drone was being “flown in the vicinity of an airfield approach” and endangered “other aircraft at that location and altitude”. These incident reports were sent to the UK Airprox Board, a branch that governs over the airport’s passenger safety and logs all near-misses while the planes are in-flight in the UK.
The reports continued: “The Board considered that the pilot’s estimate of separation, allied to his overall account of the incident and his inability to avoid the drone portrayed a situation where providence had played a major part in the incident and/or a definite risk of collision had existed.”
Drones have had several incidents in the past that involved extremely close encounters with similar passenger aircrafts. Back in October 2016, a drone at the East Midlands Airport of Leics flew too close and narrowly missed hitting the wing of a Boeing 737. Last November, a similar Airbus A320 also experienced an incident where a drone was flying near London’s tallest skyscraper.