The UK Airprox Board, who publishes reports of air traffic control incidents in the UK, says that increasing “near miss” scenarios between drones and passenger aircraft indicate that some drone operators may be intentionally flying as close as possible to passenger jets in order to get mid-flight videos. The report says that investigators were The board was “dismayed that it appeared that a minority of drone operators were flagrantly disregarding regulation and common sense, presumably in the pursuit of ever more spectacular video footage.”
The event reported on involved an Airbus A320 carrying 150 passengers who saw a drone come within approximately 65 feet of the wing of the plane at about 11,000 ft above London.
THE A320 PILOT reports being in the Biggin Hold pattern when, on the outbound leg of the hold, and descending from FL120 to FL110, the First Officer (FO) saw a small object in the 1 o`clock position at the same altitude. The object passed very quickly with a lateral distance of about 20-40m. As it passed next to the right wing the FO positively identified it as a drone, about the size of a football with a flashing magenta light. This all occurred within seconds and the only thing the FO could do was shout “Look!”
Flying so close to a passenger jet that the only thing thing the plane crew can do is shout “Look!” is clearly unsafe operation of a drone: and at 11,000 ft it’s also “beyond visual line of sight.”
This event was one of 3 drone-related incidents in that report. In another report on an incident classified as “category A,” the most serious, a “bright yellow sharp-edged rectangular object,” which investigators later concluded to be a drone, was reported to have passed within 20 feet of the right wing of a B767 passenger jet flying over Manchester airport.
The UK’s Airprox board tracks all incidents involving drones and has seen a sharp increase this year. While reporting on incidents between drones and airplanes is inconsistent – and at times totally inaccurate, such as the event earlier this year at Heathrow airport, which turned out to be a plastic bag – the idea that some drone operators are deliberately flying near passenger aircraft is a worrying trend.
The sooner that drone integration can occur which will allow drones and planes to share the airspace safely the better – but in the meantime, the drone community must fly responsibly, or risk a sharp increase in penalties and local regulations.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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