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Heathrow strike could prove setback for ecommerce drones

A delivery drone may have struck a British Airways plane near Heathrow in an incident believed to be the first of its kind.

The front of the Airbus A320, which had 132 passengers and five crew members on board, is believed to have hit the drone as it flew in from Geneva at around 12:50 on Sunday. No-one was hurt and, as of yet, no arrests have been made. The plane appears to have been undamaged by the strike. A spokesman for British Airways said: “Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.”

If the police investigation does reveal that the object was a drone, however, it could have profound implications for the use of delivery drones by ecommerce companies such as Amazon and Alibaba.

Amazon is developing drones that would carry payloads of up to 2kg to delivery sites within 15 miles of an Amazon warehouse. Indeed, Jeremy Clarkson – one of the latest stars to work directly with Amazon – has been brought in to front an advertising campaign for the drones. But concerns about civil aviation safety in both the UK and China could put a stop to Amazon’s dream.

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Tom Tyler, Director General of the International Air Transport Association, had called for increased regulation of drones at a conference in Singapore back in February.

Tyler said: “I am as excited as you are about the prospect of having pizza delivered by a drone. But we cannot allow [drones] to be a hindrance or safety threat to commercial aviation.”

He added: “The issue is real. We have plenty of pilot reports of drones where they were not expected, particularly at low altitudes around airports. There is no denying that there is a real and growing threat to the safety of civilian aircraft.”

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