The near-miss could have been catastrophic.
This article originally appeared on fortune.com.
In what’s being characterized as the closest encounter yet between an unmanned aerial vehicle and a civilian aircraft, an Air France plane last month came within 16 feet of colliding with a drone.
The Airbus Group SE A320, which can carry up to 150 passengers, was preparing to land at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport en route from Barcelona on February 19 when the pilot saw a drone on the aircraft’s left-hand side. At a height of 5,500 feet, he quickly disengaged the plane’s autopilot and carried out an avoidance maneuver.
The agency that investigates France’s air accidents disclosed the incident. It classified the near-miss as “serious.”
The incident has prompted France’s first full-blown investigation of a possible drone-airplane collision. Such close-calls are becoming more frequent, even though drones are generally banned at airports. Britain recorded 23 near-misses between April 11 and October 4 of last year, according to Bloomberg, and seven occurred in the U.K. in December alone. In January, the British Airline Pilots Association called for a registration system for drones so devices that come near airplanes can be traced more easily and their operators prosecuted.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said pilots reported 650 drone sightings from January through August 9 of last year, up from 238 in all of 2014. The FAA last month announced that it had created a system that detects drones when they fly in close proximity to airports and locates the drones’ operators on the ground. It’s considered a big step forward in policing rouge drones and integrating drones into commercial airspace.