Aviation safety is never far from the news, and with the steady increase in commercially available unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) news reports relating to near misses and new legislation continue to appear.
In their various forms, drones; some of which can even be flown via a mobile phone or tablet, have been responsible for an ever increasing number of aircraft related incidents throughout the world. There have been numerous examples across the globe of drone operators taking unnecessary risks near airports and around commercial aircraft.
Drone regulations in the UK are extremely mature when compared to the rest of the world and are fair enough to allow the flying of drones in some stunning locations across the country. The rules and regulations that do exist are in place to ensure the safety of other airspace users, third parties on the ground as well as locations of national security, such as high security prisons, royal residences and military danger areas. Breaches of these regulations are not taken lightly by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who registered several near-misses at UK airports in the last year. Tim Johnson, Director of Policy at the CAA, following an incident over Heathrow said “...drone users must understand that when taking to the skies [over Heathrow] they are entering one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world”.
In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also recognises the very real risks of unmanned aircraft systems. In August 2015, they reported that “...drones flew near 4 commercial flights approaching JFK over a 3 day period, with one small plane being forced to change direction to avoid a drone”. In response to the increase in drone popularity the FAA has created its own education campaign Know Before You Fly, which provides users with a detailed list of do’s and dont’s and a note of the legal implications for not following the law. Those who flout the rules can be subject to prosecution and can be fined up to $25,000.
But the issue of drones isn’t likely to go away any time soon, with the market for drones in the EU, according to European Commission estimates, worth up to €15 billion in the next 10 years. So the real question must be, what can aviation authorities do to ensure the safety of aircraft, their crew and passengers, balanced around the need to educate users on the appropriate use of unmanned aircraft systems. Is there a need for more legislation or is education the answer?
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