BA jet in drone collision scare

A British Airways A320 aircraft may have been hit by a drone Sunday as it approached London’s Heathrow airport, highlighting growing concern about the potential hazard posed by unmanned aircraft, reports Bloomberg.

Flight 727’s pilot reported at about 12:50 p.m. local time that he believed a drone had struck the front of his Airbus A320 from Geneva, according to a statement from the London Metropolitan Police. There were no injuries among the 132 passengers and five crew members, and police are investigating.

European pilots organisation eurocockpit last year warned that there was a dangerous lack of scientific and engineering research on the effects of drone collisions with aircraft. “This must be conducted as a matter of urgency,” it said, adding that it was recommending a maximum achievable distance from pilot of less than 500m horizontally and 50m in height for ‘open category’ drones – which includes the majority of drones used for hobby purposes  – in addition to auto avoidance of restricted areas e.g. by geo-fencing, or transponder technology.

Europe’s aviation safety agency EASA last year tabled proposals which featured a geo-fencing approach to prevent potential incidents. Within the open category, EASA has proposed three weight-based sub-categories:  those below 1kg, those from 1 to 4kg and those between 4 and 25kg.  Those below 1kg are limited to a maximum altitude of 5om; those over that weight that are to be sold to consumers must carry geofencing and identification capability.

The incident has renewed calls for a formal registry of UK drone operators. The Federal Aviation Administration in the US created a national registry for drone owners so that investigators could track down an operator after a crash. The registry, which was launched in December, now numbers 400,000 names – more than the number of registrations of regular aircraft.

The FAA said it has logged 1,348 reports of drone sightings between November 13, 2014 and January 31, 2016, the latest month available. Many of the incidents involved small aircraft rather than commercial aircraft, although a USA TODAY analysis of the FAA data shows that at least 153 of the drone-related sightings and incidents, or 11%, involved airliners or large cargo aircraft such as those operated by UPS.

Jim Williams, the former manager of FAA’s office overseeing the integration of drones into the national airspace and now a principal at a US law firm handling aviation cases, noted federal and state lawmakers have already approved drone regulations, and drone companies are seeking technology solutions, such as radio signals, to better track and control the craft including geofences.

DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer drones, already builds ready-made geofencing technology into its drones, restricting flights near airports and other sensitive locations. “Enhancing aviation safety is DJI’s top priority, which is why we have proactively incorporated geofencing technology into our drones over the past three years,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs. “No one has any business operating a drone without authorisation near an airport flight path, and we have supported proposals to criminalise hazardous operation in those circumstances.”

Airline industry chief Tony Tyler speaking at the annual IATA operations conference called for more educational campaigns styled on the FAA’s Know Before You Fly public information effort.

“The great majority of drone operators pose no risk,” Tyler said. “But we do need a sensible approach to regulation and a pragmatic method of firm enforcement for those who disregard rules and regulations and put others in danger. We are joining with other stakeholders to ensure our views are understood. IATA welcomes FAA’s activity in this regard and is supporting the Know Before You Fly campaign in the US to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of drones. We would like to see similar campaigns undertaken elsewhere. And we are working closely with ICAO as well as stakeholders representing airports, ANSPs and pilots, to agree a common approach.”

UK air accident investigators at AAIB said they were investigating the occurrence at London Heathrow.

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