Drone near misses at UK airport
Drones have already been involved in a number of near misses at UK airports. Getty Images

Recreational drones are becoming a "real and growing threat" to commercial airlines, the head of aviation industry body Iata has warned, who added that tighter regulation of unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs) needed to be enforced before a serious accident occurrs.

Speaking at an aviation conference in Singapore, Tony Tyler, director-general of Iata, said that threats posed by drones to civilian aircraft was still evolving due to the fact that they are a relative newcomer to the consumer market. However, Tyler added that a recent spate of near misses at airports – including an incident at London Heathrow last month – highlighted the need to put rules in place quickly to ensure the safety of aircraft.

In January, the UK Proximity Board revealed that drones had been involved in four serious near-misses at UK airports, including an incident at London Stansted during which a UAV came within metres of colliding with a Boeing 737.

Tyler said: "The issue is real. We have plenty of pilot reports of drones where they were not expected, particularly at low altitudes around airports. There is no denying that there is a real and growing threat to the safety of civilian aircraft.

"We need a sensible approach to regulation and a pragmatic method of enforcement for those who disregard rules and regulations and put others in danger."

Drones are not the only problem plaguing aircraft either, with an increasing number of pilots reporting being targeted by laser pointers shone into cockpits. Pilots are now calling for lasers to be classified as weapons, comparing the danger they pose to that of knives.

Police in the Netherlands have taken a novel approach to the problem of illegal drones by training eagles to take them out of the sky.