A Virgin Atlantic flight bound for Orlando, Florida, came within 100-150 metres of an illegally-flown drone, just one minute after taking off from London’s Gatwick Airport with 455 onboard.
That’s according to an incident report released this week by the UK Airprox Board (UKAB), the Civil Aviation Authority division that deals with near-collisions. The paper tabled shines a spotlight on the incident, which occurred in March of this year.
The event came 15 months after a spate of illegal drone sightings, which forced Gatwick to close its doors to the public for 30 hours and cancel a total of 1,000 flights.
The official report ranks the near-miss in March as a “Category B” incident – meaning the safety of the passengers onboard had not been assured. According to the contents of the report, the Boeing 747 was flying at a height of just 400 feet when a flight attendant spotted the drone through a cabin window.
Initial eyewitness accounts from the steward in question placed the drone at around 100-150 metres, though the board opined that it may have been even closer.
“In the board’s opinion, the reported altitude and/or description of the object were sufficient to indicate that it could have been a drone,” said the joint statement.
“Ultimately, the board agreed that the drone had likely been closer to the aircraft than the distance estimated by the reporter.
“The board considered that the crew member’s overall account of the incident portrayed a situation where safety had been much reduced below the norm to the extent that safety had not been assured.”
Under UK law, anyone operating a drone in a restricted zone can face jail terms of up to five years for endangering an aircraft.
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said, “Virgin Atlantic can confirm that crew operating flight VS15 from London Gatwick to Orlando on 14 March reported seeing a drone approximately 100 metres from the aircraft after take-off from London Gatwick.
“The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our priority, the incident was immediately reported to Air Traffic Control, the CAA, the UK Airprox Board as well as the police in line with our procedures.”
The 2018 Gatwick closures came about as a result of 129 separate drone sightings, leading to cancellations affecting over 140,000 passengers.