Passenger plane in near-miss with drone at Gatwick airport

Pilot of Airbus A320 aircraft with up to 186 passengers was forced to take avoiding action

The UKAB report said the incident in April was in the highest category of risk. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

An airliner carrying up to 186 passengers was forced to take avoiding action after a drone was spotted, a near-miss report has revealed.

The incident involved an Airbus A320 approaching Gatwick airport and a dark-coloured drone, the UK Airprox Board (UKAB) said.

The pilot was flying at 1,700ft (518m) towards the West Sussex airport when he saw the device. He carried out a banking turn to the right of up to eight degrees, resulting in the plane being level with the drone but having 80-100ft horizontal separation.

UKAB said the drone was being flown above the maximum permitted height of 400ft and within controlled airspace. It concluded the near-miss on 28 April was in the highest category of risk.

The airline involved was not identified in the report, although easyJet and British Airways are among the carriers that operate A320 aircraft to and from Gatwick.

Three other category A incidents involving drones were discussed by UKAB at its latest monthly meeting.

The pilot of a Boeing 747 was approaching Heathrow on 6 June when he saw a yellow and orange quadcopter pass down the left side of the plane.

He reported the near-miss to air traffic control and a police officer took a statement after landing.

An Airbus A319 was at an altitude of 6,500ft and flying towards Gatwick on 25 May when the captain saw a drone that was metallic-looking and reflecting light.

It passed down the right-hand side of the aircraft and was very close to the right wing, the report said.

The pilot of a Cessna 152 light aircraft was flying above Chelmsford, Essex, on 2 June when he spotted a large black drone with flashing lights, about one metre in diameter.

The device passed within five metres of the right wing and there was “no time to manoeuvre away from it”, UKAB said.

There were 125 near-misses involving drones reported in 2018, up 34% on the total of 93 during the previous year.

Just six incidents were recorded in 2014.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s code of conduct, the Dronecode, sets out rules for drone users, including staying below 400ft and flying at least 164ft away from buildings and people.

In March, the drone no-fly zone around airports was extended to protect aircraft.

New legislation came into force banning the gadgets from being flown within 3.1 miles of airports. Previously, only a 0.6-mile zone was in place.

Drone sightings at Gatwick in December 2018 caused about 1,000 flights to be cancelled or diverted over 36 hours, affecting more than 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.

Heathrow, Leeds Bradford and Dublin airports have also been forced to suspend flights due to drone activity this year.