Remember the drone that struck a British Airways jet coming in for a landing at Heathrow Airport? Well, in a hilarious twist of fate, it turns out that the object may have just been a plastic bag.
The news of the “drone” colliding with the jet gained a lot of traction last week, with politicians in the UK and USA citing the incident as a reason to have commercial drone flights regulated.
The damage done by the initial scoop cannot be undone, however. Senator Bill Nelson (Florida), cited the incident, just as an amended FAA Reauthorization Bill was being introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. He had this to say:
There are important safety reforms. Last night’s national news was led by an international news report from London about an inbound British Airways flight into Heathrow that was struck by a drone. Computer analysis has been done. What would happen if the drone is sucked into a jet engine? It can certainly cause it to be inoperable and might start an explosion. Imagine what the metal and plastic of a drone being sucked into a jet engine could do. Do we need any more reminders?…This bill has a pilot program to test and develop technologies to intercept or shut down drones when they are near airports.
Robert Goodwill, Minister of Transport (UK), said that it was yet to be confirmed by authorities whether the object was a drone. With the Metropolitan Police investigating the matter in collaboration with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, no evidence was found that the object that struck the airplane was a drone. That a “drone” had struck the aircraft was apparently a Twitter rumor started by the police.
The reported drone strike on Sunday has not been confirmed it was actually a drone. It was the local police force that tweeted that they had a report of a drone striking an aircraft… And indeed the early reports of a dent in the front of the plane were not confirmed – there was no actual damage to the plane and there’s indeed some speculation that it may have even been a plastic bag or something.
I’ve not actually landed a 747 at Heathrow but I’ve landed the simulator and the pilot has a lot of other things to concentrate on so we’re not quite sure what they saw so I think we should maybe not overreact too much.
Ironically enough, whatever the object was, it didn’t cause any significant damage to the plane. In spite of this, the incident was used by both pro- and anti-drone groups to further their agendas.
Minister Goodwill was one of the few people to keep calm, dismissing the necessity for stricter regulations. He said that the current 5-mile no-fly zone for drones around airports was sufficient.
“There are already existing laws in place that require the user of drones to maintain direct unaided visual contact with their vehicle and not to recklessly or negligently permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property,” said Goodwin. “So this instance that we’ve read about and is alleged were already breaking existing legislation and the Department [of Transport] and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are working with a wide range of industry partners across the sector, including manufacturers, airports and airlines to ensure our understanding of potential hazards to aircraft remains up-to-date.”
Even though a minister has stated clearly that the incident was exaggerated, it remains to be seen whether the perception of drones being dangerous will ever be changed, and whether politicians back down from calling for stricter regulation policies.