Drones in the news…
In case you missed it, there was a lot of drone related news over the weekend – it’s taken a little while to read through the various reports, but we thought that it would be good to share a summary and our view on developments.
On Saturday 22nd July it was announced that the government was planning to introduce drone registration and safety awareness courses for owners. This was widely publicised by the press and in many quarters assumed to be a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the closure of Gatwick Airport’s runway due to a drone in the airspace on the 2nd July.
Whilst this incident might have brought forward the publication date, and certainly helped remind everyone about drones and potential for misuse, the registration and training announcement presented some of the findings from a consultation activity that was open between December and March – to which Drones on Demand responded. The full response is linked at the bottom of the post.
Also published over the weekend was a report from the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), Military Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport into the effects of a mid-air collision between a drone and a manned aircraft.
It probably makes sense to first look at the findings of this report, as the most often used justification by willfully irresponsible or legally ignorant drone pilots to conduct a flight near manned aviation or in a busy airspace is something along the lines of “my drone is only small – aeroplanes are designed to be able to withstand a birdstrike, my drone weighs less than a bird”.
Mid-Air Collision Study
Until this report, there hasn’t been any significant scientific research into what would happen if there was a collision between manned aviation and a drone. The scope of this work was to specifically look at what happens to aircraft windscreens and helicopter tail rotors when in collision with a drone. It is acknowledged that further study is required to understand what happens if a drone is ingested into an aircraft engine. The findings are conclusive and have had a direct influence on the recommendations of the consultation exercise.
Results of Mid-Air Collision Study
- Aeroplanes and helicopters used for general aviation (private pilots) do not have to have birdstrike certified windscreens. We believe that it is this category of aircraft that it is more likely that drones could end up in collision with as it it these aircraft that tend to operate in unclassified airspace without defined and publicised flight paths
- The other vulnerability tested in the study was a collision between a drone and helicopter tail rotor. In all cases the tail rotor was found to be critically damaged
The report makes for sobering reading – the findings demonstrate that the metal components of the drone are far more damaging to the windscreen than even a heavier bird. Whilst there is now conclusive proof that windscreens and helicopter tail rotors will fail in the event of an impact with a drone it doesn’t go so far as to try and quantify the likelihood of such an impact and more work is required in this field.
Government Response to Consultation on the Safe Use of Drones in the UK
The main elements of the response that have been picked up and reported on centre around the requirement for all drones over 250g to now be registered and for all leisure users of drones to take a basic knowledge test on the laws in the UK and how to fly safely.
We fully support this and think that the education element of this proposal is vital – a lot of the leisure pilots that we encounter are simply not aware that their choice of location for flying is illegal or dangerous and haven’t considered the risk of damage to property or injury. All you need is 30 seconds on YouTube to find unsafe flights and examples of people being injured by drones in what are almost always avoidable situations. It remains to be seen how this will be delivered, but reading between the lines it sounds like there will be some sort of online ‘theory test’, like there is for driving. There will also be some lessons to be learned from how the registration was applied (and failed) in the US.
The CAA already produce a great guide to safe and legal flight in the UK which will be expanded and more widely publicised. You can read the Drone Code here.
The 250g limit also seems sensible given the research into drone collisions and also the capabilities of drones under this mass are severely limited and less likely to be in a situation where a mid-air collision is possible.
The registration element of the proposal also seems to be setting the landscape ready for a ‘drone traffic management’ system at some future date, where drones broadcast an identifier and location. Some of the newer (and more expensive) drones are already available with this broadcast capability.
The other proposals made are a continuation of the direction of travel and continue to support commercial drone operators and don’t propose any fundamental changes to how we operate or are ‘licenced’.
There is a review of the Air Navigation Order 2016 due next year (2018) which will seek to simplify the clauses that relate to drone use – this can only help, as the legislation is complex and in some areas open to interpretation.
All in all, we see the response to the consultation as very positive for drone users and the UAV industry in the UK. I’ll leave you with this quote from the document:
“…the potential benefits of drones in the UK being clear and substantial. Drones present exciting opportunities for business and the public sector to boost productivity, improve service provisions, support emergency response and infrastructure safety inspections, create high-tech jobs and boost the economy across the UK.”