An airliner came within 3ft of smashing into a large drone in what is believed to be the UK’s closest near miss involving a passenger jet, a report has revealed.
The incredible close call involving an easyJet plane happened in broad daylight at a height of 8,000ft shortly after it took off from Manchester Airport.
Both pilots of the Airbus A320 carrying up to 186 passengers on a flight to Athens saw the illegally-flown drone as they hurtled towards it at a speed of 320mph.
The drone, which they estimated could have weighed 10kgs (22lbs), flashed past the right hand side of the cockpit where the junior First Officer pilot was sitting.
Both pilots of the Airbus A320 carrying up to 186 passengers on a flight from Manchester to Athens saw the illegally-flown drone as they hurtled towards it at a speed of 320mph
A report by the UK Airprox Board which investigates near misses rated it as the most dangerous Category A incident meaning there was a serious risk of collision.
The incident happened at around 3.20pm on September 4 this year, eight miles from the airport over the streets of Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.
The number of near misses between aircraft and drones has soared dramatically in recent years as the devices have become more popular, leading to fears of a catastrophic accident.
Experts fear that an impact with a heavy drone could disable a jet engine or cause serious injury to pilots by smashing a jet’s windscreen.
A report by the UK Airprox Board which investigates near misses rated it as the most dangerous Category A incident meaning there was a serious risk of collision. Pictured: Manchester Airport
A study commissioned by the Department for Transport and the British Airline Pilots Association, found that a mid-air collision with a 4kg drone at high speed could ‘critically damage’ an airliner’s windscreen.
The previous closest reported near miss between an airliner and a drone is thought to have involved a Virgin Atlantic plane which missed one by just 10ft.
It happened when the B787-9 Dreamliner was flying at a height of 3,200ft over Clapham, south London, while approaching Heathrow after a flight from Delhi in June 2018.
The report into the latest incident said the pilots ‘saw a large drone pass very close to the aircraft windscreen on the First Officer’s side’.
It said that the drone was at exactly the same height as the aircraft, and at a horizontal distance of zero metres meaning it was under one metre.
The report quoted the plane’s chief pilot as saying: ‘The drone was blue, about 0.5m in length and at the same level.
An EasyJet spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of the report and fully supported the investigation by providing all requested information. The safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority (stock photo)
‘The sighting was approximately seven nautical miles to the north east of Manchester Airport and looked to be a large drone probably weighing at least 10kg.
‘It narrowly missed the nose/windscreen of the aircraft.’
The pilot rated the chances of a collision as ‘high’ according to the report.
The drone was being flown at 20 times the legal height for the gadgets which are normally restricted to 400ft.
But reckless drone operators are able to over-ride software restricting where they can fly and can add extra batteries to gain more height.
The close call was reported to air traffic controllers who warned other planes taking off from Manchester, but it is believed that the drone operator was never traced.
If they had been caught, they could have been convicted of endangering an aircraft which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
The air traffic controller at Prestwick, South Ayrshire, who was monitoring the flight, said in the report: ‘The A320 pilot reported seeing a drone at 8000ft, which passed close to the First Officer’s windscreen.
‘The drone was described as being approximately half a metre in size, probably about 10kg, and blue in colour. The controller informed, amongst others, Manchester Departures’
A statement by NATS, formerly National Air Traffic Services, said it had investigated and ‘found no primary or secondary radar returns in the vicinity of the Airprox that could have been a drone’.
The UKAB concluded: ‘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.’
An EasyJet spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of the report and fully supported the investigation by providing all requested information. The safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority.
‘EasyJet recognises the growing popularity of drones and therefore welcomes efforts by the European Aviation Safety Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority and other regulators across Europe, which govern regulation in this area, to take this issue seriously and ensure that the correct measures and regulations are put in place to ensure the safety of aviation is not compromised.’