Lots of press about this one, an A320 inbound Heathrow from the West. I find two things very interesting. Firstly that First Person View (FPV) flying was mentioned. That shows that folks in authority know about FPV and know what is possible.
The second point of note is the change to CAP 493, the manual of air traffic services. These changes tell air traffic types to get on with it and get detail when these AIRPROX reports are made by pilots as tracing the RPAS operator is difficult. An immediate action now is to inform the local Police of the position of the incident so they can be dispatched post haste to look for anybody flying like they should not be. Not quite sure how that will work, if a local bobby knows of an RC field nearby though….
The UK is lucky in having an excellent, responsible FPV community that has worked well with the CAA.
I would put money down that the CAA reached out to them for help on this one. Sadly though there are still folks cowboy flying. It can’t be long before one of them has the first prison time handed down to an FPV flyer in the UK.
Full report here,
THE A320 PILOT reports conducting a normal approach to RW09L at London Heathrow. At 4.5nm from the threshold, a black object appeared and was observed tracking in a westerly direction, up the approach path. The object passed about 50ft directly above the aircraft. ATC were informed. The pilot did not take avoiding action, and the approach was continued to a normal landing. The pilot stated that the object was rectangular in shape and appeared to be propeller driven, ‘like a drone’.
He did not make an assessment of the risk of collision.
THE DRONE OPERATOR: Despite extensive investigation, a drone operator could not be traced.
THE HEATHROW AERODROME CONTROLLER reports that the A320 pilot reported a balloon or drone like object passed above the aircraft at approximately 4.5nm from touchdown, at 1700ft.
The weather at Heathrow was recorded as follows:
METAR EGLL 150920Z 05008KT 020V080 9999 SCT018 BKN044 06/03 Q1028 NOSIG
METAR EGLL 150950Z 06010KT 9999 SCT021 BKN040 06/03 Q1028 NOSIG
Analysis and Investigation
The A320 was on a scheduled flight to Heathrow and making an approach to RW09L. At 0923:10, the aircraft had just passed 4.5nm final and was passing approximately 1700ft. At this point the pilot reported passing an object “…some kind of balloon or drone, small drone type object that flew over us”. The controller questioned which direction the object was moving and the pilot replied west bound. The controller initially misidentified the reporting aircraft but requested again the details of the report to which the pilot confirmed “…a balloon or drone like object…” The radar replay did not indicate another object at the position during this time. Further landing aircraft were advised of the report but there were no other sightings. It has not been possible to identify whether the object was a balloon or a drone.
The incident occurred at such an altitude that it is considered unlikely that the object was a drone controlled visually from the ground. The possibility exists that it may have been a drone controlled by ‘First Person View’. It is estimated that the prevailing wind at altitude would have caused a balloon to track almost directly along the approach path. The pilot stated that the object was rectangular in shape and appeared to be propeller driven.
An Airprox was reported when an Airbus A320 flew into proximity with a reported drone or balloon at about 0923 on Sunday 15th March 2015. The A320 pilot was operating under IFR in VMC, in receipt of an Aerodrome Control Service from Heathrow.
PART B: SUMMARY OF THE BOARD’S DISCUSSIONS
Information available consisted of a report from the A320 pilot, radar photographs/video recordings, a report from the air traffic controller involved and a report from the appropriate ATC authority.
The Board considered the actions of the A320 pilot and noted that, with his aircraft configured for landing, he had had only a limited capability to take avoiding action had it been required. They also noted that the pilot had simply reported that the encounter had involved a non-specific drone-like or balloon-like object; Board members opined that it had probably been a combination of his closure speed and the startle factor of suddenly seeing something on his approach path that had contributed to his uncertainty.
Some members felt that it may indeed have been a balloon, which the prevailing wind would have blown along the approach path, but others noted that he had later commented that it appeared to be propeller-driven and so this indicated to them that it was more possibly a small unmanned object. After much discussion, members agreed that, although there had clearly been something there, in this case there was simply too little information to make a reliable assessment of either what it was or the risk of collision. Nevertheless, it was clear that the A320 pilot had been concerned by its proximity and the consequent safety of his aircraft.
The Board also commented on the increasing incidence of Airprox involving ‘drones’. Members noted that, although drones were often marketed as toys, they were capable of being operated in the same airspace as commercial and GA aircraft to which they could easily cause catastrophic damage in a collision. They reiterated that even casual drone operators held the responsibility to ensure their activities were conducted legally and preferably with due regard to other airspace users. In this respect, members noted the contents and requirements of CAP722 (Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance) and recent changes to CAP493 (Manual of Air Traffic Services Part 1), as set out in SI 2015/02 (Issue 1) dated 8 May 2015, concerning the procedure to be adopted when reporting an Airprox involving a ‘drone’.
[UKAB Note: SI 2015/02 (Issue 1) is included at Annex A to this report.]
PART C: ASSESSMENT OF CAUSE AND RISK
Cause: The A320 pilot was concerned by the proximity of the balloon/drone.
Degree of Risk: D.