In an attempt to deal with increasing incidents of drones reported around airports, the UK’s air traffic control organization is taking responsibility for providing a solution: launching the Drone Assist application, free on Android and iOS.
The Drone Assist App is powered by Altitude Angel, a drone services platform providing air safety data via application to drone pilots. Available data includes no fly zones, ground hazards, weather and airspace alerts. The Drone Assist app will offer drone operators an “interactive map of areas of airspace used by commercial air traffic,” says the NATS press release. “Drone operators planning to fly near these areas – usually around airports and airfields – should ideally avoid them or exercise great caution. It will also contain a ‘Fly Now’ feature that will share the user’s drone flight location with other app users, and the wider drone community, helping to reduce the risk of a drone related incident in the UK’s airspace.”
The app will highlight areas of controlled airspace and provide warnings of no-fly zones or zones where caution should be used. The app integrates features from Altitude Angel’s existing solutions, and includes data about ground based hazards such as power lines, infrastructure, or public buildings. The communications aspect of the app is innovative, serving as one of the first attempts to solve the problem of drones communicating flight plans with other stakeholders.
The app is a response to growing fears in the UK and across the globe that drones pose a danger to passenger aircraft. The body responsible for investigating incidents in the UK, the Airprox Board, has so far reported on approximately 50 drone incidents this year up from 11 during 2015. While many such incidents are found later not to involve drones, such as the much publicized “near miss” at Heathrow this year which investigators later concluded was a “near miss” with a plastic shopping bag, regulators are struggling to act on public concern.
Phil Binks, NATS drone lead, said: “With the number of drone incidents on the rise, it’s clear that many people are unaware of the rules or their legal obligations as pilots. Drone Assist is designed to help everyone abide by the rules, identify areas of controlled and restricted airspace and help them enjoy flying whilst ensuring their safety and the safety of other airspace users.
“We’re delighted to have partnered with Altitude Angel to develop a tool that we hope will help improve drone safety in the UK and lead the way in international best practice.”
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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