A British Airways passenger plane thought to have been hit by an unidentified object as it approached Heathrow was probably not struck by a drone, the government said. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told MPs on Thursday (28 April) what happened was "not a drone incident".
On 17 April a British Airways pilot reported the front of his Airbus A320 aircraft had been struck by a drone on approach to Heathrow from Geneva. The flight, which was carrying 132 passengers with five crew on board at the time, landed safely and the plane was cleared to fly its next flight after no damage was found.
An investigation by the Met Police saw officers carrying out an unsuccessful search of the Richmond area for debris. The incident was being treated as endangerment of an aircraft under Article 137 Air Navigation Order 2009. But there has since been little evidence to shed light on what happened. Last week, transport minister Robert Goodwill told a House of Lords committee the object could have been "a plastic bag".
An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has since been closed due to a lack of evidence. A spokesman said: "We made initial inquiries but there was insufficient information on what object was involved for us to take it further."
There were a number of reported near-misses between drones and aircraft in UK airspace last year. In a report published in March, the UK Airprox Board said there were 23 cases between April and October 2015.
Increased fears over the risk drones could pose to aircraft has led the National Police Chiefs' Council to look into a number of potential solutions for protecting the air space around airports. This could include a "death ray" defence system, seeing drones shot out of the sky with a high-powered radio signal which blocks commands from their pilots.
McLoughlin rejected claims by Labour MP Paul Flynn the government had been "complacent" in its tackling of drone safety. Describing the unmanned aerial vehicles as a "new menace", Flynn called for universal access to be reduced, and said there was a "dreadful possibility" of the gadgets being used by terrorists. McLoughlin said: "There are already tough penalties in place for negligent drone use, including five years imprisonment for endangering aircraft."
Figures provided by the Ministry of Justice this week, in response to a parliamentary question submitted by shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter, revealed just two people had been found guilty of offences relating to flying a drone in 2014. Both received a penalty fine.
The DfT says it is working with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to raise awareness of responsible drone use. This includes a "Drone Code" safety awareness campaign, the issuing of safety leaflets at the point of sale, and running "Risk and Hazard" workshops.