London - Pilots have warned that it is only a matter of time before a drone causes a fatal collision – with more than one “near miss” now recorded every week in the skies above Britain.
The British Airline Pilots Association spoke out after a watchdog revealed a remote-controlled craft came within 20ft (about 6m) of a jet with 165 passengers aboard above the Shard skyscraper in London.
A report from the UK Airprox Board, which monitors the threat of mid-air collisions, said so far this year there have been 56 near misses – up from six in 2014 and 29 last year. In the Shard case, a collision could have smashed the cockpit windscreen or an engine. It was only “pure luck” an accident was averted, the report said.
Steve Landells, a former RAF and BA pilot and a flight safety specialist at Balpa, said: “This is an accident waiting to happen.
“The sheer number in the skies and the fact that anyone can fly them means inevitably they will be more near misses. There is a very big concern that we could end up with a collision.”
The number of close calls has risen dramatically as tens of thousands of enthusiasts have bought drones which can fly above 6 000ft and up to 50mph. Balpa is calling for tougher rules for people who buy them.
The Shard incident on July 18 was the third near miss in consecutive days involving planes approaching Heathrow. A similar incident was recorded near Liverpool airport.
Pilots also fear the drones, which are too small to appear on radar, could easily bring down a helicopter.