In a Near Catastrophic Incident – A Drone Almost Collided with a...

In a Near Catastrophic Incident – A Drone Almost Collided with a Passenger Airplane in the UK

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A British Airways flight headed to London’s Heathrow Airport was flying at almost 3 km, carrying 180 passengers onboard, when an illegally flown drone came within 1.5 meters of its wing.

Many people nowadays use remote-controlled drones as aviation toys, used to film events and locations from the sky. Their rise in popularity and the potential danger they can pose to other aircraft made many countries pass laws regarding their use. In the UK, for example, there is a mandated flight restriction zone near airfields, spaceports, and airports that restrict drones from flying unless they have permission from these facilities.

These clear instructions and restrictions regarding the use of drones make this incident highly surprising. According to Interesting Engineering, the BA flight was flying into the UK at 402 kph, and was nearing its destination when the pilots noticed a drone-shaped object flying to the right of the aircraft’s nose at the same level, very close. The drone then passed down the right of the aircraft and over the right wing.

In their report, the pilots estimated that the drone was about a meter and a half from the plane’s wing and rated the risk of collision as high. The threat was later analyzed, and the drone’s presence was confirmed by radar, rating the event as a Category A incident (which is reserved for serious collision risk).

Experts explain that commercially available drones usually have a height restriction that is embedded into their operating software but add that such limits can be overridden by installing software patches bought online. They estimate the drone operator was likely simply attempting to capture footage of an aircraft while in mid-air, but warn that according to the pilots, if a drone were sucked into an aircraft’s engine, it would result in catastrophic damage.