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Quadcopter flies dangerously close to UK passenger plane

James Temperton
27 Oct 2014
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Co-pilot raises alarm after quadcopter comes within metres of colliding with wing of passenger plane on approach to Southend airport

A remote-controlled drone came dangerously close to colliding with a passenger plane coming into land at Southend airport. The drone, likely to be a quadrocopter, came within 25 metres of the small, 74 passenger capacity AT72 aircraft.

In a report filed with air safety body Airprox UK the co-pilot of the passenger plane said the quadcopter came "deliberately close" to the right wing-tip of the aircraft. At one point it was seen 100m away as it approached before turning around and appearing 25m away. In his assessment of the situation the co-pilot said that the risk of collision was "high".

The close-call came on 30 May 2014 as the plane descended through 1500ft on its approach to Southend airport. A transcript of the conversation between the co-pilot and air traffic control reveals the confusion as the drone circled the plane:

AT72 "…for information when we were on the glide just about to intercept the glide er seen on the right side kind of er you know remote control helicopter er very small engine flying on the right side same altitude"
ATC "That's understood roughly what range when you saw that was it"
AT72 "Just before we intercept the glide was black and red"
ATC "That's understood er I'll make a note of that"
AT72 "Was not sure it was you know a helicopter it looks like it's a brand new thing that are flying around now on remote control"
ATC “Oh a quadcopter type thing maybe"
AT72 "Say again sorry"
ATC "Perhaps something like a quadcopter er we've had a couple of those around here er been reported”
AT72 “Yes exactly that"
ATC "Understood"
ATC "(AT72)c/s do you know roughly how far away the erm model was from you"
AT72 "er from my point of view it was too close"
ATC "Understood".

Investigators contacted nearby model flying clubs in an attempt to trace the drone but its whereabouts remain a mystery. Drones and other small, unmanned aircraft are exempt from most regulations but controllers must not "recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property", Airprox said.

"Members were disappointed that someone would fly a quadcopter so high on the extended approach path to an airport, and that no quadcopter operator had come forward to help with the analysis," Airprox concluded.

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