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British Airways Greece to London Flight Almost Crashed With Drone

British Airways flight from Athens to Heathrow came within five feet of hitting a drone.
British Airways flight from Athens, Greece to London, UK came within five feet of hitting a drone. Credit: BriYYZ. CC BY 2.0/flickr

A British Airways flight from Athens, Greece to London, UK narrowly missed a drone by five feet while flying at 250 miles per hour at an altitude of 9,600 feet during a very close call which could have spelled disaster for those onboard.

The illegally-flown drone came within five feet of a collision with the British Airways aircraft over the Kent countryside, a report has revealed.

The flight from Athens, Greece, to London’s Heathrow airport had around 180 passengers on board and was cruising through the air at more than 250mph, with the incident thought to be one of the closest ever near scrapes between a BA jet and a drone.

The near miss occurred just before 4:30 pm on January 3rd  of this year, as the Airbus A321 was making its way into a holding stack roughly six miles south of Sevenoaks while waiting its turn to join the final flight path into the London airport.

What happened with the British Airways flight and the drone?

The drone was flying at twenty-four times the typical maximum legal height for the devices, which is just four hundred feet. It is thought that the owner of the drone was not found. However, if they had been caught, they could have been jailed for up to five years for endangering an aircraft.

A report released by the UK Airprox Board, which examines near misses, stated that the pilots estimated the drone as being roughly five feet above their wing and just thirty feet from their cockpit. Pilots have warned again and again in recent years about the risk of drones causing potentially disastrous damage by being inhaled into a jet engine or breaking a windscreen.

The flying height of the devices is usually restricted by software to four hundred feet, but the restriction can be over-ridden by a patch which can be bought online. Extra batteries can also be installed which help drones reach greater heights. This is the likely explanation for why it was close to the British Airways flight.

It has been suggested that the careless drone operator involved in the incident may have been trying to get video footage of an aircraft from close up in mid-air, and the report rated it as a category A incident where there was a serious risk of collision.

It said that the plane was approaching its holding stack when the pilot “became aware of an object slightly to the right of the nose at the same level on a constant bearing with closing distance.”

The report also said that “it was small, but had the distinctive shape of a drone. The object passed down the right-hand side of the aircraft and over their right wing. Details were passed immediately to London ATC (air traffic control), which informed the pilot of the aircraft behind them.”

The British Airways pilot said the risk of collision with the drone was high, stating that the object had “shot down our right hand side” and describing it as “extremely close.”

The report added, “Analysis of the radar by Safety Investigations indicated that there were no primary or secondary contacts associated with the drone report visible on radar at the approximate time of the event.”

It was concluded that “in the Board’s opinion the reported altitude and/or description of the object were sufficient to indicate that it could have been a drone. 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.”

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