Agricultural drone involved in near-miss with RAF jet over Suffolk

An agricultural drone had a near-miss with an RAF Tornado jet over Suffolk, according to an Airprox Board report published this week.

The incident happened at around 9:30am on July 4; however, details of the incident have only been made public now following an inquiry by the UK Airprox Board.

The Airprox Board is the body responsible for improving air safety in the UK. In particular, the organisation is responsible for writing reports of lessons to be learned from instances where safety has been compromised.

The drone operator said the drone was carrying out an agricultural survey at the time.

While the drone was heading south on a return leg, a Tornado passed from behind at high speed over the same field, heading north.

The operator had to put the drone into a rapid descent to avoid hitting the aircraft. He assessed the risk of collision as ‘High’.

The drone had been flying at 328ft at the time – just 72ft (22m) from the height the aircraft passed at.

The UK Airprox Board secretariat said the drone and Tornado pilots shared equal responsibility for collision avoidance and not to operate in such proximity to other aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

Although noting that the drone operator was operating entirely within regulations by being at 400ft and 10nm from Wattisham, members of the board agreed that the operator could have notified the Wattisham controller of his intentions.

The board also recommended that HQ Air Command pursues the use of an alert system to notify pilots of
commercial drone operations in the UK Low Flying System.

The publication comes as drone use within the UK has already come under heightened levels of scrutiny.

Dozens of reports of alleged drone activity caused a two-day shutdown of Gatwick Airport last week which saw hundreds of flights grounded and hundreds of thousands passengers’ Christmas travel plans affected.