Drone May Have Hit Plane Landing at Heathrow

British Airways plane landed safely; London police investigating
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2016 7:19 AM CDT
Drone May Have Hit Plane Landing at Heathrow
In this photograph taken Feb. 8, 2016, a British Airways plane prepares to set down on a runway at Denver International Airport.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In what the UK's Civil Aviation Authority says would be "a totally unacceptable" first, a British Airways plane landing at Heathrow appears to have been hit by a drone on Sunday, the BBC reports. The Airbus A320 coming into London from Geneva had 132 passengers and five crew members aboard, a BA spokesman tells CNN; the incident was reported after the BA pilot touched down. "Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight," the rep says. No arrests have been made (it's unclear whose drone it may have been), and the aviation security arm of the Metropolitan Police is looking into the matter. Police note that flying a drone too close to a plane is illegal, NBC News reports, with punishment including up to five years in prison.

Specifically, drones over 15 pounds can't fly higher than 400 feet and aren't permitted to fly "beyond the direct unaided line of sight" of its operator or near crowds or buildings. Not that the incident came as a total surprise: The head of the International Air Transport Association had previously noted the "real and growing threat" of a drone-plane hit, while a British Airline Pilots Association rep says it was "only a matter of time." A recent study by Bard College's Center for the Study of the Drone underscores the danger in US airspace, with 327 "close encounters" of drones flying within 500 feet of manned aircraft between December 2013 and September 2015, and at least 28 pilots "[maneuvering] to avoid a collision with a drone." Frighteningly, aviation experts say they don't really know what would happen if a drone got sucked into a plane's engine, a Civil Aviation Authority rep tells NBC. (A drone recently came within 200 feet of a plane at LAX.)

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