British Airways Flight Nearly Collides With An Illegal Drone

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  • Near-miss with drone on British Airways flight as it narrowly avoids collision over UK airspace.
  • Drone flew far above legal limit at 9,500ft, and the operator has not been tracked down.
  • Incident labeled as Category A risk by Airprox.

A British Airways flight reportedly came within 5ft of a drone, narrowly avoiding a possible disaster. The Airbus A321 was flying from Athens to London Heathrow in January when it encountered the drone over the skies of Kent, UK.

BA Airbus A321 narrowly misses drone

As first reported by Daily Mail, the A321 could have carried up to 180 passengers onboard during the incident. At around 16:25 GMT on January 3, 2024, the flight was approaching BIG VOR (Biggin Hill VOR station) near the town of Sevenoaks, Kent, when pilots “became aware of an object slightly to the right of the nose” which was closing distance with the aircraft. The near-miss occurred at an altitude of around 9,500ft as the British Airways flight – traveling at a speed of over 250 mph – entered a holding pattern before its final approach to London Heathrow Airport (LHR).

With a reported separation of just 5ft, a collision was miraculously avoided with the drone, which was being flown far higher than the legal limit. According to Airprox, a NATS Safety Investigation report states that the pilot of the BA flight claimed the object “shot down our right-hand side” and was “extremely close,” describing it as “small but with the distinctive shape of a drone.”

A spokesperson for BA commented,

“We take such matters extremely seriously, and our pilots report incidents so that the authorities can investigate and take appropriate action.”

Analysis of radar data showed no primary or secondary contacts indicating the presence of a drone, although a primary-only contact was spotted on NATS radar briefly. The incident occurred on January 3rd and the drone’s operator has not been tracked down since then. Under the Air Navigation Order 2016, if caught, the operator would face up to five years imprisonment for the reckless act – authorities would probably throw the book at them too, given the severity of this incident.

Category A incident

Airprox deemed the incident as a ‘Category A’, the highest category of risk applying to incidents where a collision is highly probable and only avoided due to “providence” or expert maneuvering from pilots.

drone and commercial aircraft

Photo: Jag_cz | Shutterstock

In the UK, the maximum legal height for a drone is 400ft, and this limit is programmed into commercially available drones. However, the software can be hacked, which enables far higher altitudes such as this near-miss, which occurred over 24 times the legal limit. It isn’t clear why someone was operating a drone at this height, but it could have been to capture footage of the plane.


CAA Reiterates UK Drone Laws Following Near Miss With RAF Hurricane

The CAA has reminded the public of standard drone regulations after a drone nearly collided with a low-flying RAF plane.

Simple Flying has reported on several drone near-misses over the years – fortunately, none of these have led to a major accident, although collisions with commercial aircraft have happened. One such collision occurred when an Emirates Airbus A380 was landing in Nice and a drone struck its right wing, causing extensive damage to the aircraft but no injuries onboard.

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