Unwelcome intruders

In a report that emerged towards the end of last year, an Airbus A320 pilot reported that, in the summer, he had come perilously close to colliding with a helicopter-style drone as he brought his aircraft in to land at Heathrow Airport.

In response to the reported incident – similar to others that have been recorded around the world – the British Airline Pilots Association said the rapid increase in the number of drones (unmanned aerial objects) being operated by amateur enthusiasts now posed a “real risk” to commercial aircraft.

Sales of drones in the UK alone are now reported to be around 1,000 to 2,000 every month and they can retail for as little as £35 (€46; $53), although more advanced and larger versions cost up to £3,000.

For pilots worried that a drone impact may have a similar effect to a ‘bird strike’ – when a bird gets sucked into a plane’s engines – the threat is a real one. For airport investors and operators, might a whole new risk category be apparent? Say hello to ‘drone risk’.