Airline pilots in the UK are asking the government to impose stricter regulations on drones, citing four “near-miss” incidents at UK airports in a single month, the Guardian reports.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) called on lawmakers for “urgent action” after the four “category A” incidents in which a “serious risk of a collision occurred.”
Regulations in the UK already call for drones to avoid airports and flight above 400 ft in altitude, but pilots are concerned that many new hobby operators are unaware of the rules.
The existing UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules state: “The operation must not endanger anyone or anything.” None of the drone operators involved in the “near-misses” were identified, but the CAA says that they could have faced imprisonment for flying irresponsibly. BALPA has called for a drone registration system like that in the US in order to find and prosecute any rogue operators; although it is unclear whether a registration program would have helped in any of the cases cited.
The plea for urgent action comes as the UK Airprox Board investigated seven drone incidents last month. Steve Landells, a Balpa flight safety specialist, told the Guardian: “The reports that UK Airprox gets are the ones that are seen. But when you’re flying at more than 100mph, the chances of seeing a typical, 18-inch wide drone are small. We don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg. With the massive increase in drone sales, we fear we might see a dramatic rise in close calls.”
A CAA spokesperson said: “Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations. Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world – a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft.
“The rules for flying drones are designed to keep all airspace users safe and anyone flouting these rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment.”
In addition to asking for geo-fencing technology in hobby drones, BALPA has also called for more research into the effects of drone impact on aircraft. As yet, there have been few studies done that can accurately assess the real danger drones may pose to aircraft: any studies have used computer algorithms to make broad assumptions about the comparison of birds and drones. A study using an actual drone might serve to allay the fears of the airline industry and support realistic methods for integrating drones into the airspace.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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