A drone came within 5 meters (20 feet) of a potentially catastrophic collision with an Air France plane coming in to land at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, marking one of the closest encounters so far between one of the increasingly popular toys and a civil airliner.
The Airbus Group SE A320, which can carry 150 people, was arriving from Barcelona at 1,600 meters when the pilot saw the drone on the plane’s left side. He disconnected the autopilot and took avoiding action, the BEA, France’s air-accident investigator, said of the incident, which occurred on Feb. 19.
France’s first full-blown probe of a drone near miss will now be initiated, according to the BEA. Such incidents have become increasingly common, with Britain recording 23 close shaves between April 11 and Oct. 4 last year. There were seven near misses in December alone, and four of those were classified as involving a serious risk of collision.
As the number of so-called air-proximity incidents increases, pilots are lobbying for drones to be safely integrated into public airspace or banned, with the British Airline Pilots Association calling in January for a registration system so that rogue drone operators can be more easily traced and prosecuted.
In one recent case, a drone came close to colliding with a Boeing Co. 737 climbing out of London Stansted, with other serious incidents recorded at Manchester, London City and London Heathrow, Europe’s biggest air hub.
Drones are not authorized to fly near airports, and neither are they allowed to fly over residential areas above an altitude of 150 meters. The BEA didn’t say how many people were on the Air France plane or how big the drone was.
A recent study by Aero Kinetics suggested that a drone ingested into an aircraft engine would be more likely than a bird strike to result in an uncontained failure, in which metal spewed from the turbine can compromise the aircraft’s integrity.
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