Analysis of UK Airprox Board (UKAB) data by the PA news agency revealed the extent of close encounters a day after Rishi Sunak said the government would do “whatever it takes” to keep the United Kingdom safe from the threat of spy balloons.

The prime minister made the comment following a decision by US authorities to shoot down a number of objects in western airspace in recent days, including a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

UKAB’s analysis of the reports found that on December 17, the pilot of an EV97 light aircraft flying at 1,850ft over Enfield, north London, reported an object that “could have been a balloon or a balloon-shaped drone.” egg” that was flying “directly below them”. 50-200 feet”.

An air traffic controller told the board on September 25 that a pilot in the cockpit of an Airbus A319 aircraft was “distracted” by an object that was “a balloon or a drone” passing by the side of the plane.

The full moon silhouettes a passenger plane (Toby Melville/PA)
The full moon silhouettes a passenger plane (Toby Melville/PA)

The pilot said it was “very close” and described it as a “white object, considered a threat” and “rectangular.”

Four days later, a Boeing 737 pilot taking off from Stansted Airport, Essex, reported seeing “a shimmering object” just 50 meters away.

The pilot “first thought it was a balloon,” but later thought it unlikely since he was at an altitude of 9,000 feet, so he believed it was a drone.

On July 2, a Boeing 757 pilot saw “what were first thought to be balloons” at 7,500 feet shortly after leaving Manchester Airport.

The report went on to state that “as the black object passed on the right side, it looked like a drone.”

On July 16, the captain and first office in the cockpit of an Airbus A320 near Hatfield, Hertfordshire, noticed an object that was “grey/silver in color and the size of a large drone or balloon.”

It was “almost bright in appearance” and passed “within 100-200 feet below your aircraft.”

The UKAB concluded that the incident had the second highest level of risk as “security had been reduced well below standard”.

On June 3, the pilot of an Airbus A321 aircraft at 34,000 feet over Norwich saw “a small white weather balloon.”

The first officer aboard an ATR 72 turboprop aircraft approaching Liverpool John Lennon Airport on April 8 observed “a small silver-colored object” about 10 meters from the right wing at 3,500 feet.

The report added: “As the object was only visible for three seconds, it was not long enough to determine whether it was a balloon or a drone.”

The UKAB concluded that the incident had the highest level of risk as “there had been a definite risk of collision”.

In October 2017, the Met Office said it “launched more than 4,300 balloons each year from six locations across the UK” and is “involved in launching thousands more around the world”.


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