A near-miss involving a drone back in July put 130 lives at risk, according to the UK Airprox Board (UKAB). According to the UKAB, the gadget passed directly over the right wing of an Airbus A319 when the passenger aircraft was on landing approach at London Gatwick airport. This conclusion comes amid the news that a drone struck a commercial plane in Quebec City on October 12th, according to Transport Canada.
The airline involved in the UK incident was not identified by the UKAB, however the board classed the drone as, “very large, certainly not a toy,” with a blade diameter of one metre. The plane’s First Officer also told investigators that the, “startle factor of the drone’s proximity,” nearly caused him to disconnect the plane’s autopilot system and take ‘avoiding action’.
The captain completed a safe landing of the plane, but the UKAB warned: “A larger aircraft might not have missed it, and in the captain’s opinion it had put 130 lives at risk.” The board added that, “providence played a part,” in avoiding a serious air collision.
It was one of the 18 drone, balloon and other object near-misses that the UKAB discussed at its latest meeting. The incident has raised fresh concerns surrounding the legalities of drone ownership, which DIGIT covered back in July with Martin Sloan, a Partner of law firm Brodies.
Proximity is covered in the ‘Drone Code’, a consolidation of the relevant provisions of the Air Navigation Order 2016 that enthusiasts have to abide by. According to the ANO, drones must:
- be used safely;
- be kept within visual range of the operator;
- be flown no higher than 120 metres;
- keep at least 50 metres from persons or structures, and at least 150 metres from crowds or built-up areas (including not overflying these); and
- be kept away from airports and airfield flight paths.
The latter provision would mean that those involved could be prosecuted. Mr. Sloan, in a recent conversation to DIGIT, reminded that the Air Navigation Order also increased the maximum prison sentence for endangering the safety of an aircraft from two years to five years.
Further protections were also forwarded at around the same time of the incident by the Department of Transport, who recommended a drone registration system to help make pilots more aware of the dangers. Their decision followed research which found that drones were capable of breaking plane windscreens.
Martin Sloan told DIGIT: “The increase in near misses is clearly concerning. A more effective approach might be the increased use of geo-fencing by drone manufacturers, where GPS technology is embedded in the drone to prevent it flying into designated ‘no fly’ areas, such as airports and other high risk areas.”