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Drone apparently collided with British Airways Airbus A320 during landing at Heathrow Airport

British Airways Airbus A320. Credit: British Airways.
British Airways Airbus A320. Credit: British Airways.
British Airways Airbus A320. Credit: British Airways.

Drones and commercial aircraft incidents/close calls are on the rise.

It’s a frightening question but it has to be asked: How long until there’s a commercial air disaster that’s caused by a drone?

Unfortunately, we might get an answer sooner than we want.

A British Airways jet landing at Heathrow Airport Sunday afternoon was struck but an unidentified flying object. The pilot said a drone struck near the front of the aircraft when it was about 1,700 feet in the air. Authorities are investigating but as of Monday afternoon there were no updates and no evidence.

The Airbus A320, which started its journey in Geneva, landed safely. There were no injuries and no apparent damage to the aircraft.

“Thankfully the aircraft landed safely but the incident highlights the very real dangers of reckless, negligent and sometimes malicious use of drones,” Chief Superintendent Martin Hendy, head of Metropolitan Police Service’s Aviation Policing Command said in a statement. “We continue to work with the Civil Aviation Authority and other partners to tackle this issue and ensure that enthusiasts who fly drones understand the dangers and the law.”

The popularity and proliferation of drones have created cloudier skies. Despite authorities regulating that drones not be operated near airports, their small size makes drones difficult to track and thus difficult to regulate.

Steve Landells, flight safety specialist for the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said: “Frankly it was only a matter of time before we had a drone strike given the huge numbers being flown around by amateurs who don’t understand the risks and the rules.

An analysis of Federal Aviation Administration data from a five-month period from August 2015 to 2016 reported 519 incidents involving passenger aircraft and unmanned drones. The rate of close calls between drones and aircraft in the U.K. is also rising.

The British Airways incident was minor. However, a drone being sucked into an engine while a plane is landing could lead to a catastrophe. An engine ingesting a foreign object and either shutting down or exploding would leave the flight crew with few options given that their allies – altitude and speed – would be unavailable.

Avgeekery.com has posted this article about drone ownership and this one about a company – ironically considering the BA incident, based in England – about the development of a drone capture device.

But it would appear that the only effective deterrent is stressing the education and training of drone operators in order that they understand that, for drones, the air space around an airport is a no-fly zone.

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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