UK Records 7 Serious Near Misses With Drones In Just 2 Months

In their latest meeting last month, the UK Airprox Board reported seven serious misses involving commercial aircraft and drones within two months. The report highlighted seven of the most dangerous Category A incidents, despite stricter laws regarding flying drones in the United Kingdom.

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The aircraft was at 4,300ft when the co-pilot spotted the drone. Photo: The Carlisle Kid via geography.org

The new laws came into effect following the prolonged closure of London Gatwick Airport (LGW) last December after a drone was repeatedly flown near the runway.

What is the law regarding flying a drone in the U.K.?

As things currently stand, to operate a drone in the U.K. pilots must be over 18 years of age. They must also register any drone that weighs more than 250 grams (0.55lbs).

Younger people are not excluded from operating a drone but must have it registered by an adult who promises to take responsibility for the drone’s use.

As well as the drone’s registration, drone operators must pass a competency test that has 20 multiple choice questions, and get 16 correct.

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In the U.K. drones are not permitted to be within three miles of an airport. Photo: Pixabay

Drone operators in the U.K. are forbidden from flying above 400ft (120m) due to safety concerns involving the possible collision with manned aircraft. In March of 2019, the U.K. made it illegal to fly a drone within three miles (4.8km) of an airport.

If any of the above laws are broken the person responsible for the drone could face a fine of up to £2,000 ($2,616). When discussing the new laws with the Guardian newspaper the head of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) Rob Hunter welcomes the news saying:

“This is another measure to encourage responsible drone operation, which is desperately needed to ensure a collision between an aircraft and a drone is avoided.”

Despite the new laws drones are flying too close to aircraft

One of the seven incidents highlighted by the UK Airprox Board occurred on September 14th when a drone came within 16 feet (five meters) of a passenger jet as it approached Manchester Airport (MAN).

The plane in question, an Embraer 170 with 50 passengers on board, was on its final approach flying over Dovestone Reservoir when the co-pilot spotted the drone.

When speaking about the incident to the BBC, the UK Airprox Board said:

“The co-pilot spotted the drone, which had no lights and appeared to be stationary.”

The Board concluded that it was indeed a category A near miss saying:

“The board considered that the pilot’s overall account of the incident portrayed a situation where providence had played a major part.

“The EMB170 pilot reports he was on final for the Manchester ILS RW23 when a drone, or object, came within 5m of striking the aircraft. It passed to the front right, slightly above 4300ft (approx.2500agl).

“The object was dark in color and thought to be a medium to large drone, there were no obvious lights and it appeared to be stationary at the time.

“The sun was low at the time and the Captain had the sun visor down, the FO spotted it first and both crew members saw it as it went past.”

Could a drone bring down an aircraft?

While exceedingly rare with and engines built to withstand them, bird strikes have been known to cause engine failures, as was the case with Captain Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson.”

In 2018, the University of Dayton Research Institute conducted tests to see what kind of damage could occur if a drone hit an aircraft.

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A British Airways 777 pilot spotted a drone at 6,000 ft. Photo: Andy Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons

When comparing birds and drone strikes, the study concluded that a drone hitting the plane would cause significantly more damage than a bird, based on equal weight.

Also, with the drone having metal and electrical parts, it would be more likely to cause a fire or rupture a fuel tank. Clearly, people are not taking the law as seriously as they should, given the number of incidents.

What do you think about people flying drones higher than they should or too close to airports? Please let us know in the comments.

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