Plane hits 'drone' during descent at Heathrow

LONDON • A British Airways (BA) plane struck an object believed to be a drone as it was coming in for landing at London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, police have said.

An investigation has been launched into the incident on Sunday, which follows a string of near misses involving drones and is believed to be the first case of a collision in Britain.

The plane, an Airbus A-320 with 132 passengers and five crew on board, was on its final descent into Heathrow when it was struck.

"A pilot on an inbound flight into Heathrow Airport from Geneva reported to police that he believed a drone had struck the aircraft," said a spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police. "The flight landed at Heathrow Terminal Five safely. It transpired that an object, believed to be a drone, had struck the front of the aircraft."

A BA spokesman said the plane had been examined after landing and was cleared to operate its next flight. "Safety and security are always our first priority and we will give the police every assistance with their investigation."

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said it was "totally unacceptable" to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules faced possible imprisonment.

"As far as I am aware, this is the first time a drone has collided with a commercial jet," said Mr Hans Weber, president of aviation consulting firm Tecop International. "It clearly was illegal where this drone was being flown."

Mr Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots Association, said: "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."

The UK Airprox Board, an air- safety agency, said last month that there were 23 near misses between drones and aircraft in the six months between April and October last year.

In one incident on Sept 22 last year, a Boeing 777 reported narrowly missing a drone as it was taking off. Investigators concluded that the drone was at the same height as the aircraft and within 25m of it.

A drone then came within a few metres of an Airbus A-319 landing at Heathrow only a few days later, on Sept 30.

Under British legislation, drones cannot be flown near planes, helicopters and airports and must be kept below 122m.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration requires operators to stay more than 8km from airports unless they get permission from air-traffic controllers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Plane hits 'drone' during descent at Heathrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe