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UK government says plane collision 'was not a drone incident'

David Ramos/Getty Images

The UK government has said it no longer believes that an unknown object thought to have struck a passenger plane this month was a drone. The plane's pilot reported the suspected collision on the 17th, with UK police saying they believed the culprit may have been a quadcopter drone. The incident was later downplayed, with one minister saying the object "may even have been a plastic bag," and today, according to the AP, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told MPs that experts believed "that was not a drone incident."

"insufficient information on what object was involved"

An investigation into the incident by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has also been closed. "We made initial inquiries but there was insufficient information on what object was involved for us to take it further," said a spokesperson for the AAIB. Early reports said the plane — a British Airways Airbus A320 — suffered no damage.

After the incident was first reported, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) was quick to blame drone enthusiasts. "Frankly it was only a matter of time before we had a drone strike given the huge numbers being flown around by amateurs who don’t understand the risks and the rules," said BALPA flight safety specialist Steve Landells. Police also pointed to a report by the UK Airprox Board that catalogued 23 near-misses between drones and aircraft in a six-month period last year.

Earlier this week, transport minister Robert Goodwill said that the incident — misreported or not — did not necessarily mean the UK needs new, stricter drone regulation. "There are already existing laws in place that require the user of drones to maintain direct unaided visual contact with their vehicle and not to recklessly or negligently permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property," said Goodwill.