Warning over drones operated by plane spotters

Warning over drones operated by plane spotters

Plane spotters flying drones to capture aerial footage have emerged as the latest threat to aircraft.

A report on a near-miss involving a drone and a passenger jet carrying up to 150 people warned of the risk presented by the enthusiasts.

The first officer of an Airbus A320 shouted “Look!” as the device came within 20 metres of the wing at about 11,000ft above south-east London.

A UK Airprox Board report said that the risk of a collision was high.

The report warned that a minority of drone operators may be intentionally flying devices close to aircraft in mid-flight to capture videos.

The board was “dismayed that it appeared that a minority of drone operators were flagrantly disregarding regulation and common sense, presumably in the pursuit of ever more spectacular video footage”, the report said.

It was one of three near-misses involving drones featured in the board’s latest monthly report. A total of 59 near-misses involving drones have been reported to the board in the past 12 months.

Pilots called for drones to be fitted with transmitter beacons that would allow police to track their owner in the event of an incident. Civil Aviation Authority rules state that drones should not be flown above 400ft.

Steve Landells, flight safety specialist with the British Airline Pilots’ Association, said: “Flying a drone in an irresponsible manner puts lives in danger and any offending drone should transmit enough data to allow the police to locate the operator. If they have endangered an aircraft we would like to see the culprit prosecuted.

“Pilots are pressing for better education and compulsory registration, during which the rules are made quite clear, and more high profile prosecutions of offenders.

“Endangering an aircraft can come with a prison sentence of up to five years.

“All drone users, especially hobbyists, who often have little training or understanding of the rules of the air, need to be aware of the dangers of flying them in, or near to, restricted areas such as Heathrow.”

According to the report, the incident with the A320 occurred at 6pm on August 4, when the aircraft was in a holding pattern over Biggin Hill, which is used for flights approaching Heathrow, The Times reported.

The drone was at the same altitude as the aircraft and passed 20 to 40 metres from the right wing. The device had a flashing magenta light.

The report said: “This all occurred within seconds and the only thing the [first officer] could do was shout, ‘Look!’. The captain also saw the drone . . . but there was insufficient time to react or to avoid a potential collision.”

On July 20 an Embraer 190 jet was in a climbing turn at 2,700ft over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London.

It had just taken off from London City airport when a drone passed 9 metres above it and 20 metres to its left.

On the same day, a drone was flown at “exactly the level of the flight deck window” of a Boeing 767 approaching Manchester airport.

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