A major tragedy was averted at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport last month when an Air France jet descending towards the airport narrowly avoided a collision with a drone. According to the Local, the incident happened on February 19 but has only come to light now after officials released details about the incident on Friday.
According to initial reports, the Air France aircraft involved in the incident was an Airbus A320 that was on its way from Barcelona, Spain, to Paris and was beginning its descent towards the runway of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The co-pilot of the aircraft, who had started the usual landing procedures/checklist, spotted a drone in his field of vision. The pilots had to suddenly turn the autopilot off and manually swerve the plane away from the drone in order to avoid a collision. According to the pilot, the drone came within five meters of the left wing of the aircraft.
The aircraft landed successfully without incident. However, the close call resulted in an investigation by France’s aviation regulator BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyse). The initial report by the BEA classified the incident as “serious” and described it as a “near collision.” The BEA is also investigating how the drone managed to reach an altitude of 5,500 feet, which is quite high for a drone. French law prohibits drones from flying higher than 150 meters off the ground. Besides, the area around the Charles de Gaulle International Airport is a designated no-fly zone. The BEA is also aware that very few drones are capable of reaching such a high altitude. Besides, most drone models nowadays come with software that prevents drone users from flying them near restricted airspace.
Aviation experts are of the opinion that a normal-sized jet aircraft would be able to withstand a collision with a small drone. However, if the drone impacts any of the plane’s engines, the results could be catastrophic, especially when the aircraft is flying over heavily populated residential areas.
This is not the first time that drones have made headlines in France. Last year, shortly after the terrorist attacks in France that left over 130 people dead, several mysterious drones were seen across the city. The drones were seen flying above several famous landmarks, most of which were designated no-fly zones for drones. However, none of the drones were caught and none of its operators were identified. While many thought the drones were simply being flown by innocent tourists, others believed the drone operators had more sinister plans.
In November 2014, another incident occurred when drones were spotted flying over several nuclear power stations in France. A total of 16 flyovers over nuclear power plants across France were reported in 2014 alone. Again, no arrests were made in that case as well. Some experts believed that the drones flying over the power plants were part of a plan by an environmental group to showcase the lack of security around nuclear power plants in the country.
Flying a drone without permission or in a restricted area in France can result in a fine of €75,000 and up to a year in prison. More recently, the United States was also seen taking a tough stance against drones. Starting in 2016, drone operators in the U.S. are required to register their drone with the FAA. This is largely being seen as a move to restrict the usage of drones near no-fly zones and to identify pranksters who could end up causing serious damage and loss of life.