A drone was involved in a near-miss with a Flybe passenger flight on approach to Newquay Airport on Tuesday, putting the aircraft's 62 passengers and crew at risk.
The flight – BE804, which arrives at Newquay from London Gatwick airport and shares codes with Virgin Atlantic and British Airways – was at 900 feet and about two miles from the Cornish airport, on its final approach, when the drone flew alongside it.
According to police, the aircraft was just south of the hamlet of St Columb Major when the drone was spotted.
Although the near-miss was reported to police, a search of the area revealed no trace of the drone or its operator, Devon and Cornwall Police said in a statement.
“The close proximity of the drone to the passenger aircraft shows a complete disregard by the operator for public safety and we are appealing to the public for information to help us track down this reckless drone operator,” said the force's Inspector Dave Meredith in a canned statement.
The cops will be tasking their specialist drone unit to investigate.
“Flybe can confirm that the aircraft in question was an ATR-72 owned by a third party airline operating this service on behalf of Flybe,” the airline told The Register. “The safety of its passengers and crew is Flybe’s number one priority and we will always work closely with all relevant authorities to help identify the perpetrators of any such activity that may jeopardise this.”
ATR-72s operating on Flybe services can carry between 68 and 74 passengers. The twin-engined turboprops would likely make mincemeat out of any drone that got close enough, unlike the turbofan engines fitted to larger, longer-distance airliners.
Amateur drone operators present a small but growing threat to aviation in general and near airports in particular. The Civil Aviation Authority publishes plain language rules for drone operators, covering everything from the sort of toys you can get from Maplin right up to serious operators of Remotely Piloted Air Systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The CAA's Dronecode – don't laugh – states: “Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields,” and adds that drones must not be flown “within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures” or higher than 400ft above ground level.
Newquay Airport is based on RAF St Mawgan. While the Air Force handed over control of the aerodrome's runway and day-to-day flying operations to the civilian airport operator in 2008, there is still a small military presence at the airport. It is the RAF's most westerly station in mainland Britain. Yesterday the Red Arrows arrived there, ready for the Falmouth Week air display.
The Civil Aviation Authority has been contacted for comment. ®