A new report has highlighted a worrying near-miss between an easyJet A320 service and a drone. The incident happened in July 2019 and is one of an increasing number of similar incidents disrupting air traffic.
Details of the incident
On 8th July 2019, an easyJet A320 service came in the range of a drone at 350ft, according to a report published by the UK Airprox Board. The aircraft was ready to descend into Gatwick when a drone appeared in the centreline of the Captain, who identified its presence.
Whilst somewhat on alert for the incident, considering recent events, the pilots had not expected the sighting. They had not been aware of any recent drone activity that would affect them.
However, when the drone was identified, the pilots were unable to maneuver to avoid it and instead, the aircraft carried on its course. The first officer established that the drone was now flying “slightly to the left” creating somewhat safe passage. The aircraft was able to maintain a visual on the DJI Inspire drone as it passed on the left side.
Thankfully, the aircraft and drone passed one another without major incident. The staff reported the event to the police and air traffic control upon landing.
A category-A sighting
However, the risk of collision allowed the report to mark the event as a Category A. That signifies that the likelihood of a collision was very high. Had the aircraft been on autopilot, a head-on crash would have been almost inevitable.
The report concludes:
“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.”
Whilst drones are not dangerous if correctly used, the drone which easyJet encountered was in breach of its restrictions. Firstly, it was flying above the permitted height. Drones should only be allowed within 400ft of the ground. Whilst this particular aircraft met with the drone at a lower height, the drone had been reported to be flying higher.
Another illegal stroke in the drone owner’s movements was that they had flown in restricted airspace. The image below from the CAA website demonstrates the radius within which drones are exempt from operating.
An increased number of drone incidents
Of course, drones in themselves are not illegal. But the use of drones is becoming more heavily regulated.
Around the same time last year, Gatwick airport was closed for a number of days as drones blocked off the runway. It was a moment of newfangled chaos. But unfortunately, drone incidents are becoming more commonplace and they don’t just happen on the ground.
In the December 2018 drone incident at Gatwick, easyJet reported having lost £13 million ($19.4 million) in revenue from the airport closure. But the recent incident carried much higher stakes.
As of 30th November 2019, drone owners in the UK will need to take a test to ensure they can safely and legally use their equipment. The law applies to any drone over the weight of 250g and improper use could see a £1,000 fine from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Statistics show that drone incidents are on the rise. According to the UK Airprox Board, there was 125 Airprox reported drone incidents in commercial air travel in 2018 compared with 93 the previous year. Since 2010, incidents involving drones and aircraft have experienced a 3,025% increase.
For easyJet, it was a near-miss with a fortunate ending. Let’s hope that the new UK regulations will help to protect airspace from future incidents.
Are you concerned about drone activity in commercial airspace? Let us know in the comments!