A passenger jet narrowly missed being hit by a drone shortly after take-off from Heathrow. Flight safety investigators said pilots of the Airbus A320 had "no time to react" when a 2ft-wide, black object with flashing lights passed within 30m of their aircraft.
In a report published on Friday (29 April), the UK Airprox Board said the risk of collision was in the 'A' category – the highest level. Investigators said the near-miss, which took place on the afternoon of 14 February 2016, happened as the aircraft climbed to 12,500ft. The co-pilot then spotted a stationary black drone ahead, slightly above the aircraft. The plane continued to climb in altitude and the object passed beneath, about 100ft to 150ft from the left fuselage.
The report added: "The entire event lasted no more than three or four seconds, making any evasive action virtually impossible." It concluded that "chance had played a major part" in the fact there was no collision.
It comes as MPs debated drone safety in parliament on Thursday following a number of reported near-misses with passenger aircraft. In a report published in March, the UK Airprox Board said there were 23 such cases between April and October 2015.
Labour's Paul Flynn MP accused the government of being "complacent" in its tackling of the issue. 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.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin responded by saying: "There are already tough penalties in place for negligent drone use, including five years imprisonment for endangering aircraft."
He also revealed a British Airways passenger jet thought to have been hit by an unidentified object was probably "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.
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 UK 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.