In a hair-raising episode at Heathrow, the primary runway was shut down as a drone (balloon?!), piloted illicitly, came perilously close to colliding with an airliner traveling at nearly 200mph. The alarming drone incident was first identified when the drone was spotted hovering at a height of 3,000ft by the pilots of two incoming passenger jets.
This narrative commenced when the pilots of a Rome-originated Finnair flight received a warning from air traffic controllers about the rogue drone, hovering about three miles south of Maidenhead, Berkshire. However, the UK Airprox Board's report stated that the pilots chose to proceed with the flight, as the drone seemed to remain to the right of their flight path.
The suspense heightened when the drone passed under the left wing, narrowly missing the engine of the A320 aircraft, potentially hosting up to 174 passengers. “The Finnair pilots rated the risk of a collision as ‘high',” the report noted, as the drone hovered between 3ft and 10ft right beneath their aircraft, approximately ten miles west of Heathrow. This incident is reportedly considered one of the most severe near misses involving a drone and an airliner in UK airspace.
Surprisingly, the drone was operated at over seven times the Legal maximum height of 400ft for drones and had a round-shaped appearance, displaying a purple/turquoise hue.
The Finnair plane proceeded to land safely on Heathrow's northern runway just before 12:40 pm on April 8. However, post-landing, the runway known as RW09L was promptly shut down for subsequent flights.
In light of the imminent danger, other planes were rerouted to land on the southern runway, known as RW09R, to avoid the drone's pathway. As per the UKAB, the incident was designated a Category A incident, representing a significant risk of collision.
“The Board considered that the pilot's overall account of the incident portrayed a situation where providence had played a major part in the incident and/or a definite risk of collision had existed,” the report stated.
Interestingly, the drone operator remains unknown, but if identified, they could face up to five years in prison for endangering an aircraft. This Drone Incident adds to the growing list of near misses between drones and passenger aircraft in UK airspace.
These dangerous encounters often result from rogue operators illegally overriding maximum altitude software to capture dramatic videos of passing aircraft. Pilots continually highlight the potential risks of drones shattering cockpit windows or damaging jet engines, particularly during critical phases of flight.
Reflecting on the incident, a Finnair spokesperson said, “Flying drones in areas where it is strictly forbidden shows that some drone enthusiasts have ignored safety regulations.”
The airline emphasized the importance of a strong safety culture and the detrimental impact of such irresponsible activities on air traffic safety and flight operations.
Photo courtesy of Pixar.
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