Another near-miss in UK skies between a passenger jet and a craft believed to be a drone has been classified as a Category A incident involving a “definite risk of collision.”
The UK’s Airprox Board, which looks into “air proximity” events between different flying craft, issued its ruling on the September 13 near-miss between a B737 passenger plane and what pilots identified as a drone. According to reports, if the object was indeed a UAV, the brush would constitute the closest-ever commercial craft-drone encounter without resulting in a collision.
While the ruling was unambiguous about the urgency of the situation, it was nevertheless “unable to determine the nature of the unknown object” as definitely being a drone.
That designation came from the pilot of the B373 as it approached London Stansted Airport for landing. According to that account, the passenger plane was positioning itself to land on its designated runway when the captain reported “a drone passing down the left side of their aircraft whilst they were descending through approximately 2800 ft.”
“A white object believed to be a drone appeared and narrowly avoided hitting the aircraft to the left-hand side of the nose cone,” the Airprox Board review stated. “It managed to pass without hitting the aircraft. The whole event happened too quickly for any avoiding action to be taken… with the pilot commenting that they ‘did not know how it did not hit the aircraft’.”
The passenger jet, believed to be a low-cost Jet2 flight from Menorca, was flying at 200 mph when the pilot reported seeing the drone at close range. The Airprox Board noted “there were no further sightings,” and the B373 “landed without incident.” It ended ruling “a definite risk of collision had existed.”
The details of that incident were uncannily similar to one that occurred on August 28 – a near-miss the board also rated as Category A.
In that case, another B737 passenger also believed to have been operated by Jet2 reported a drone appearing from nowhere as it prepared for landing at the Leeds Bradford Airport. After descending to somewhere between 300 and 500 feet, landing gear lowered, the pilot looked up to see what was identified as a UAV as close as 10 feet away.
“(A)s a result of the startle factor (the captain) ducked and moved their head away from the flight deck window as they thought it was coming through the window,” that report stated. Thankfully, the anticipated collision did not occur.
Both incidents are among a series of close calls reviewed by Airprox Board this year. The vast majority of reports that come before it are fortunately far less urgent aerial encounters, and frequently have nothing to do with UAVs. Even when seemingly confident identification of drones invading passenger plane airspace is made by crew, meanwhile, questions loom until official reports confirm those.
Back in August, for example, an American Eagle Embraer 175 passenger jet decided to land shortly after take-off when its pilot reported striking what he thought was a drone. Shortly after the FAA issued its definitive finding: “The object was a Mylar balloon.”
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