UK authorities probe 'drone hitting plane at Heathrow'

British Airways A320 hit something on approach

The United Kingdom's Metropolitan Police and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are both investigating an apparent collision between a drone and a passenger aircraft.

British Airways says the pilot of an A320 landing at Heathrow on Sunday reported hitting something during the landing approach. The object has since been recovered and multiple reports suggest it was a drone, flow by persons unknown.

The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that the Metropolitan Police are investigating a “possible incident with a drone at Heathrow”.

All and sundry are pointing out that flying a drone in a flightpath or near an airport is a really stupid thing to do, as not only does it endanger passengers it is punishable by law.

The UK Airprox Board has recorded several other incidents involving drones and commercial aircraft in recent times. An A380 sighted a drone near Heathrow last October (PDF while an Embraer E170 saw a drone as it came in to land at London City airport, at a time the report ((PDF) says pilots had “a high cockpit workload as they were landing, and it was too late to take any avoiding action.”

Commercial aircraft can nearly always cope with hitting birds, as planes go faster and are rather harder than winged beasties. Drones pose more of a risk as they're made of sturdier stuff, can carry liquid fuels and have rapidly-rotating rotors that could conceivably damage a plane. ®

Bootnote

For my sins, in the year 2000 I was involved in the official launch of CA Technologies' Slough office, a building in the shape of a giant “W”.

Legend has it the “W” was chosen to honour CA founder Charles Wang. Whatever the reason for the shape, it was best photographed from the air and a drone engaged for the chore.

I mention the fact because a quick look at Google map shows that CA's shed is only about 5kms from Heathrow.

Commercial drone operators are very careful about this stuff – the photo shoot to capture the “W” apparently took rather a lot of organising.

While I'm reminiscing, Wang apparently found the road journey from Farnborough, where his private jet landed, to the Slough office distastefully slow. He therefore ordered a helicopter be found for the return journey. Again, the office's proximity to Heathrow complicated matters considerably. Wang's request was certainly … erm … appreciated by CA staff who weren't busy at all on the day of the building's launch. Nope, not busy at all. And nope, not at all unimpressed by the boss deciding he was above the marvellous experience of crawling along British motorways.


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