Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Ten feet from danger - a Virgin close encounter with a of many so far this year.

According to the UK Airprox Board, there was as little as 10 feet between a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the way to London Heathrow and a high flying drone in June this year.

The event happened over Clapham Common on 28th June 2018 as the 787 was operating flight  VS301 returning from Delhi to the Heathrow and is believed to be the closest a drone has come to a commercial aircraft. 

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority introduced regulations regarding drones in 2016 which states that drones should bet kept away from flight paths and always be operated below 400 feet, this incident with the Virgin 787 took place at 3200 feet. The pilot reported that on approach to Heathrow RW27L when a drone-like object was seen to pass just below the right wing, avoiding impact with the engine by an estimated 10ft.  The Airprox board found 'The drone was being flown beyond VLOS (Visual line of sight) limits and on an airfield approach path such that it was endangering other aircraft at that altitude and position. The Board agreed that the incident was, therefore, best described as the drone was flown into conflict with the B787.'

There are many other reports of drones being operated in a manner that could endanger an aircraft, on 20th May this year a pilot of an Airbus A319 had just taken off Heathrow and was at 6000 feet when the crew saw a ‘small drone’ pass directly above them.  

On 16th June 2018 the crew of an air ambulance helicopter was passing over London Gatwick, the pilot was cleared to cross the runway 26L threshold when a drone was seen at a similar level. It passed down the right-hand side of the helicopter at or slightly below their level. Flying drones near airports is illegal and could easily fatally damage an arriving or departing aircraft.

One day later on 17th June, an Airbus A319 was on final approach to Heathrow runway 27L when the crew spotted a drone just below their flight path, on the extended centreline.  The vertical distance was hard to judge, but they estimated 50ft below them, it was close enough to see that it was white, had 4 propellers and had blinking filaments.

Just two days later and Airbus A330 was on final approach to Manchester Airport at an altitude of 500 feet when all three pilots observed a drone hovering.  It passed slightly above, to the left-hand side of the aircraft, less than 100ft away. It was medium to large, dark coloured and shaped like a balloon. It was reported to ATC and video of the event was captured by a plane-spotter. The UK Airprox board stated 'The drone was being flown in an airfield approach lane such that it was endangering other aircraft at that location and altitude.'. 

The crew of a C404 spotted an orange drone on 26th June when they were at 1800 feet and 8 miles from Stanstead, the drone passed just off the right wing. 

On the first day of July, a Boeing 787 pilot reported that he was north of Heathrow when the non-handling plot saw a drone to the left and below at about ¼nm which passed down the left side. The drone had angular ‘arms’ extending from the main body and remained in sight for about 3seconds.

Seven days later at around 4000 feet the pilot of a Boeing 777 reports that on initial contact with Heathrow Director an aircraft ahead reported the sighting of a drone on the approach path to RW27L.  Heathrow Director took action by holding aircraft at 4000ft until passing 11DME to avoid.  Once established on the localiser the Captain saw the drone to his left, about 2-300ft below. No action was taken because by the time the drone was seen, it had already passed beneath the aircraft.

(Photo Virgin Atlantic)