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Drone 'flew over landing jet wing'

Aviation near-miss investigators have expressed their "considerable concern" that a device believed to be a drone came within 20ft of an about-to-land passenger plane at Heathrow Airport.

The Airbus A320 was 700ft from landing when the pilot reported seeing a small black object to the left of the aircraft, the report by the UK Airprox (aircraft proximity) Board (UKAB) said.

The object "passed about 20ft over the wing" and appeared to be a small radio-controlled helicopter, the report said.

The object did not strike the plane and the pilot was able to make a normal landing in the incident, which occurred at 2.16pm on July 22 this year.

But it added that it had been a distraction during a critical phase of the flight. Air traffic controllers were told of the incident and following aircraft were notified. The UKAB also gave the incident an A rating - meaning that there had been "a serious risk of collision".

The UKAB said: "Despite extensive tracing action and the proactive assistance of local model flying club members, it was not possible to trace the operator of the model aircraft in question."

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

The UKAB said the information available consisted of a report from the A320 pilot and radar photographs/video recordings. The model helicopter did not appear on radar and, from the A320 pilot's description, was probably of a size that could not be considered likely to do so.

The board said its members were satisfied that the A320 crew had seen a model helicopter and were of the unanimous opinion that the operator of the model had chosen to fly it in an entirely inappropriate location.

The report went on: "That the dangers associated with flying such a model in close proximity to a commercial air transport aircraft in the final stages of landing were not self-evident was a cause for considerable concern.

"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 report continued: "The board were heartened to hear of work being undertaken by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) to bring the issue of remotely piloted aircraft operations to wider public attention."

Earlier this year, airline pilots' association Balpa demanded better protection for the public against the risks of drones.

It wants drones, officially known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), which share airspace with passenger and freight airliners to meet the same safety standards as piloted aircraft. It includes only being flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: ''The UK should become a 'safe drone zone' so we can make the most of the major business and leisure opportunities offered by remotely piloted aircraft, while protecting passengers, pilots and residents.

''The technology is developing quickly and we could see remote aircraft the same size as a Boeing 737 being operated commercially in our skies within 10 years.''

Research carried out by intelligence experts for the University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report published in October warned of the misuse of drones.

The commission called for "urgent" measures to safeguard British airspace to cope with civil and commercial use, which is expected to be more widespread by 2035.

The report said the "hazards presented by inadvertent or accidental misuse of RPAS, or the consequences of their malfunctioning, are becoming better understood".

It added that small commercial aircraft, including for taking photographs, are already "clearly being flown" and often in breach of the rules, the commission found.

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