How close is too close when it comes to drones and commercial flights? An alarming drone incident involving a British Airways jet over London raises eyebrows and questions about the accuracy of the pilot's account.
On May 14, a British Airways flight from Mumbai, cruising at a speed of around 230mph and laden with up to 256 passengers, was on its descent to Heathrow.
The pilot reported that a drone, “white in color and professional-sized,” nearly collided with the aircraft, stating it had “passed within a wing's length off the left-hand side.” He described the heart-stopping moment to the NATS air traffic control service saying, “Yes. I literally thought it was going to hit the windscreen”.
However, here's where doubt surfaces. Flying at 230mph, could the pilot really have identified the drone accurately?
Moreover, the aircraft was at an altitude of 5,200 feet, around 13 times the standard Legal height for drone flights. While it's true some drones can be modified to exceed this limit, seeing such a small object at that speed and height raises some eyebrows.
In the aftermath, the UK Airprox Board, which evaluates near-miss incidents in UK airspace, classified this incident as a Category A – the highest risk level.
They mentioned, “In the Board's opinion the reported altitude and/or description of the object were sufficient to indicate that it could have been a drone.”
It's the word “could” that casts shadows of doubt. They further added that providence had played a significant role in preventing a collision.
The authorities took this report seriously. They warned other aircraft in the vicinity, although no other sightings were confirmed.
Many hypothesize that the drone pilot was aiming to capture dramatic aerial footage of the plane. If caught, such recklessness could lead to a five-year jail sentence for endangering an aircraft. Unfortunately, the drone operator remains elusive.
For years, aviation specialists have cautioned about the potential threats posed by drones to commercial aircraft, emphasizing the disastrous outcomes should a Drone Strike occur.
In response to this incident, a British Airways representative reportedly stated, “We take such matters extremely seriously and our pilots report incidents so that the authorities can investigate and take appropriate action.”
The takeaway? While drones can pose a risk to manned aircraft in airspace, it's essential to approach such reports with a balanced view, considering the speed and height dynamics at play.
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