Collision with A320 is first incident of its kind in the UK as Met and CAA launch investigation
A ‘drone‘ collided with an A320 passenger jet that was on final approach to London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday, an incident that is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.
The British Airways flight from Geneva was carrying 132 passengers and five crew, and was hit just before landing at around 12:50 BST. On landing, the captain of the A320 reported that an object, which was believed to be a drone, hit the front of the aircraft.
After inspection from ground crew, the aircraft was cleared to resume normal service
A British Airways spokesman said: “Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.”
Heathrow’s aviation police have launched an investigation alongside the Metropoliton Police and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). No arrests have yet been made.
In a statement, the CAA said: “The CAA is aware of a possible incident with a drone at Heathrow on Sunday 17 April which is subject to investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Safety is our first priority.
“Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations. The rules for flying drones are designed to keep all airspace users safe. It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.”
In the UK it is illegal to fly a drone in the vicinity of an airport, as well as fly drones “beyond the direct unaided line of sight”. Flights near crowds of people and near buildings are also prohibited. Sunday’s incidents likely contravened all of these laws.
Read More: Can you fly drones in London?
“Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world – a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft,” said the CAA.
There have been a number of incidents surrounding drones and airports in the UK over the last year. Last November, a pilot of an A321 passenger jet approaching Gatwick airport had a close call with a drone flying at 100ft above one of the airport’s runways. Last September, pilots of an A319 aircraft reported a drone passing within 30ft of the cockpit whilst on approach to Heathrow.
An investigation is ongoing into Sunday’s incident.
The collision comes as aviation industry bodies call for tougher regulations on civilian drone use. But tighter regulations, such as having an official register of drone pilots, could damage commercial plans for drone use. One company planning to use drones is Amazon.com. which claims it wants to use drones for deliveries.
Amazon is hoping to get its ‘Prime Air’ drones into public use within the next few years following the completion of a thorough testing period, which will see how the drones cope with a range of delivery challenges.
James Stamp, global head of aviation at KPMG said the the ‘drone’ incidents highlights the need for more regulations.
“People who fly drones in controlled airspace are potentially putting lives in danger, and should be subject to the strongest possible sanctions available under the law,” he said.
“A number of practical steps should be taken, including requiring drones to be registered, tougher penalties for irresponsible behaviour, and technology based solutions that will prevent the drones entering restricted airspace in the first place. More research is also required into the potential impact of collisions because, while the impact of bird-strikes has been well researched, the impact of drone impacts is less well understood.”