Police in London are investigating a collision Sunday between a British Airways (BA) aircraft on final approach to London Heathrow Airport and an unidentified object, believed to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Airbus A320 landed safely.
Flight BA727 was inbound from Geneva and approaching the airport from the east, over central London, when the crew reported an impact around 1250 local time April 17. The aircraft, with 132 passengers and five crew, landed safely and without any injuries.
A London Metropolitan Police statement said that the pilot reported he believed a drone had struck the front of the aircraft. Investigations are continuing.
A BA spokesman said that engineers checked the aircraft on landing and cleared it to go back into service for its next scheduled flight. He added that the aircraft had been “five to 10 minutes out” from the airport at the time of the impact.
Heathrow Airport said that it was working with BA, UK air navigation service provider NATS and the police.
A spokesman for the UK aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations. It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties, including imprisonment.
“Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world.”
It anticipated receiving a report from BA on the incident within 96 hours.
The number of reports of near-miss incidents between small UAVs and airliners near major airports has become a serious concern for the air transport industry and regulatory authorities. French air accident investigation agency BEA is investigating what it described as a “serious near-miss incident” involving an unmanned aerial vehicle and Air France Airbus A320 during its approach to Paris Charles de Gaulle in February.
The problem seems especially acute in Europe and in the US, where FAA last year introduced new rules governing private, small UAV ownership and operation. Typically, authorities are unable to track the privately-owned drone or its operator; the FAA rules are aimed at making them traceable and at keeping UAVs away from airports.