Earlier this week, police in the UK reported that a passenger plane landing in London’s Heathrow airport collided midairwith an object believed to have been a drone. These reports may have been blown out of proportion though, with the UK’s transport minister Robert Goodwill telling The Telegraph that the collision may actually have been with nothing more harmful than a plastic bag.
“The reported drone strike on Sunday has not been confirmed it was actually a drone. It was the local police force that tweeted that they had a report of a drone striking an aircraft,” said Goodwill. “And indeed the early reports of a dent in the front of the plane were not confirmed — there was no actual damage to the plane and there’s indeed some speculation that it may have even been a plastic bag or something.”
Fear of drones could have led to the report
Goodwill’s comments are not definitive, but there’s a possibility that fear of quadcopters disrupting commercial flights has made pilots more likely to “spot” them. Data released last year by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US showed that pilots had reported 678 drone-sightings and near misses. However, a deeper look by Motherboard found that many of the sightings had been miscategorized (a “large vulture” was logged as a drone, as was a “mini blimp”), and noted that the number of drone sightings pales in comparison to the number of confirmed collisions with birds — 11,399 in 2013.
And while in the US, plenty of companies are coming up with ways to neutralize rogue drones, in the UK, Goodwill dismissed calls for tighter security, saying current regulations were strong enough.
“There are already existing laws in place that require the user of drones to maintain direct unaided visual contact with their vehicle and not to recklessly or negligently permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property,” said Goodwill. He said that proposed geo-fencing rules (making manufacturers install software preventing drones from flying in certain areas) could be dodged by hackers, and that traditional terrorist attacks were still a greater threat than drones.