British Airways plane possibly hit by drone near Heathrow

The aircraft was cleared to operate on its next flight

A British Airways aircraft was possibly hit by a drone Sunday near Heathrow airport as it was coming to land, which is likely to increase demands for greater checks on the flights of the devices.

The Airbus A320 flight from Geneva, carrying 132 passengers and five crew members, appears to have not been significantly impacted and was cleared for its next flight, according to news reports.

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority said it was aware of “a possible incident” with a drone at Heathrow on Sunday, which is subject to investigation by the Metropolitan Police. It reminded drone users of the country’s "dronecode," which prohibits drones from flying above 400 feet (about 122 meters) and requires them to stay away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.

"It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment," the CAA said in a statement Sunday.

British Airways could not be immediately reached for comment. The British Airline Pilots’ Association said in a tweet that "the risk and consequences of drone collision urgently need to be properly understood."

In the U.S., there have been demands for greater regulation of consumer drones, including through technologies such as geofencing that use GPS and other techniques to impose geographical limits on their movement.

After a near-miss last month between a drone and a Lufthansa aircraft landing at Los Angeles International Airport, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said the Senate must pass legislation she introduced last year, called the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which would direct the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to require safety features for newly manufactured consumer drones, such as geofencing and collision-avoidance software. The provisions in the legislation are incorporated into the FAA reauthorization bill, she added. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 is being considered by the Senate.

Pilot reports of drones, also referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), picked up from 238 sightings throughout 2014 to over 650 in a little over seven months of last year, the FAA said in August last year. The FAA reported last month that there were over 580 reports of drone sightings by pilots, air traffic controllers and citizens in the national airspace between Aug. 22, 2015 and Jan. 31, 2016.

The FAA has as yet to finalize rules for the commercial use of drones but it already has regulations in place that require people using drones for recreational purposes to fly their unmanned aircraft, which cannot weigh more than 55 pounds (25 kilograms), at below 400 feet, within visual sight of the operator and 5 miles (8 kilometers) away from airports. But monitoring adherence to the rules may be getting more difficult as the number of consumer drones has gone up, and includes over 406,000 people that have registered since a FAA drone registry went live in late December.

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John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
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