The first near miss between a passenger jet and a drone near Heathrow Airport is being investigated by Air safety chiefs, amid fears that unmanned aircraft are posing an increasing danger to commercial flights. The UK Airprox Board (UKAB), which will publish its findings on Friday, is expected to record an incident risk rating of A - the highest of five categories - defined as a "serious risk of collision".
The report, seen by the The Sunday Times, said the pilot of the Airbus A320 spotted the drone, which failed to show up on air traffic control systems, at 2.16pm on July 22 while flying at an altitude of 700ft. The pilot reported the incident to the UKAB who launched an inquiry, however the owner of the drone has never been identified.
The Airbus A320 is a short-haul jet which can carry 180 passengers and is commonly used by European airlines. Earlier this year airline pilots' association Balpa demanded better protection for the public against the risks of drones. It wants drones, officially known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), which share airspace with passenger and freight airliners, to meet the same safety standards as piloted aircraft. It includes only being flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training.
Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: ''The UK should become a 'safe drone zone' so we can make the most of the major business and leisure opportunities offered by remotely piloted aircraft, while protecting passengers, pilots and residents. The technology is developing quickly and we could see remote aircraft the same size as a Boeing 737 being operated commercially in our skies within 10 years.''
Research carried out by intelligence experts for the University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report published in October warned of the misuse of drones. The commission called for "urgent" measures to safeguard British airspace to cope with civil and commercial use, which is expected to be more widespread by 2035.
The report said the "hazards presented by inadvertent or accidental misuse of RPAS, or the consequences of their malfunctioning are becoming better understood". It added that small commercial aircraft, including for taking photographs, are already "clearly being flown" and often in breach of the rules, the commission found.