BBC News just reported that an Airbus 319 narrowly missed a large drone while approaching Gatwick Airport. A UK Airprox Board report revealed that 130 lives were at risk when a large diameter drone passed directly over the wing, in between the wingtip and the fuselage. An “airprox” is when distances between aircraft are seen to compromise safety. The incident happened on July 9th when a drone was “flown into conflict” with the Airbus 319. According to the report, there had been a high chance of collision.

It’s a bird. It’s a drone!

It also said:

“A larger aircraft might not have missed it and in the captain’s opinion, it had put 130 lives at risk.”

While preparing to land the first officer spot a small black object. Thought first to be a bird until it became obvious that it was indeed a drone, the report said. Twilight conditions at 20:35 BST caused the drone to appear dark or black in color.

The report states:

“At its closest point, it passed between the wing-tip and the fuselage, above the right wing. A larger aircraft might not have missed it and in the captain’s opinion, it had put 130 lives at risk.”

Former RAF and British Airways pilot Steve Landells said it was a “worrying near-miss that could have ended in tragedy”.

After the Airbus had landed safely at the West Sussex Airport, the Gatwik police was notified and they attended to the incident. According to the report, it was a “very large drone, certainly not a toy”, with an estimated diameter of about 1 m (3 feet) with four blades.

Based on the pilot’s estimate of the distance of the airplane to the drone, and his inability to avoid object “portrayed a situation where providence had played a major part” in avoiding an accident.

Preventative measures

After research found that drones can smash windshields of small airplanes, the English Department for Transport (DFT) revealed plans for drone registration. In the U.S. there is a no-fly zone with a 5-mile radius around all airports and a 400 feet ceiling in place to prevent these kinds of possible collisions.

DJI has recently announced a software update called AeroScope that will enable government agencies to intercept communications from a drone to its controller, allowing them to identify the drone, it’s heading, speed, location and even the contact information of the drone pilot.

Incidents like the one at Gatwick Airport make it obvious that all parties; government, manufacturers and drone pilots, need to take steps to ensure the airspace is and remains safe. Do not fly your drone in close proximity to an airport or airfield.

Note: the featured photo is a photoshopped image of a drone and an Airbus 319. It is not known whether an EasyJet plane was involved in this incident and the photo should NOT be viewed as a confirmation that it was an EasyJet airplane. The photo is simply to illustrate and accompany the story.

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