'Drone' in near miss with passenger plane at Heathrow airport

A pilot reported seeing a small black object to the left of his aircraft. Credit: PA

An incident in which a device believed to have been a drone came within 20ft of an about-to-land passenger plane at Heathrow Airport has been described in an official near-miss report.

The Airbus A320 was 700ft from landing when the pilot reported seeing a small black object to the left of the aircraft, the report by the UK Airprox (aircraft proximity) Board (UKAB) said.

The object "passed about 20ft over the wing" and appeared to be a small radio-controlled helicopter, the report said.

The plane was coming into land at Heathrow. Credit: PA

The object did not strike the plane and the pilot was able to make a normal landing in the incident, which occurred at 2.16pm on July 22 this year.

But it added that it had been a distraction during a critical phase of the flight. Air traffic controllers were told of the incident and following aircraft were notified.

The report did not say which carrier was operating the Airbus nor where the Airbus had flown in from.

Drones should only be flown by people with pilot-equivalent training, the pilots' association says. Credit: DPA

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.

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.

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.