Drone near misses with manned aircraft show a need for education and training

As many of you may have heard, on the 22nd of July 2014 the pilot of an Airbus A320 reported sighting a “small black object” to the left as he prepared for landing at Heathrow airport.

The airbus was 700ft up when the object was reported passing approximately 20ft over the wing. The pilot was able to land the plane safely, but stated “it was a distraction during a critical phase of flight.” The UK Airprox Board(UKAB) gave this incident an A rating, meaning that there had been “a serious risk of collision”. Investigations were unable to trace the operator responsible.

This incident demonstrates a need for a greater public understanding of drone operations. As statistics come through about the volume of drones being sold monthly and marketing campaigns push for making a drone the gift to get this Christmas, the importance of understanding the rules and regulations surrounding this emerging industry has never been greater.

The operator of the drone involved in the Heathrow near-miss was breaking numerous regulations from take off. The Air Navigation Order 2009 defines a congested area as being “any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes.” You must have permission from the CAA to land or operate within a congested area. Article 138 of the ANO states “A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property”. I believe not only the pilot of the airbus, but the UKAB agrees flying a drone within 20ft of an aircraft is reckless when they gave this incident an A rating. Additionally articles 166 and 167 state the operator must maintain direct, unaided visual contact to monitor its flight path, the operator must not fly in Class A, C, D or E airspace without permission from the air traffic control unit, operators shouldn’t fly at a height of more than 400ft or within 50m of any vessel, vehicle, or structure not under the operators control. New FPV regulations do allow for flights to be higher than 400 feet, but not in the class D airspace around Heathrow and a competent spotter needs to be with the remote pilot at all times.

With at least one other drone near miss currently being put through the UKAB, it is possible that there are recreational drone pilots who may be keen to fly in these areas simply to obtain footage of manned aircraft in flight. I cannot stress how dangerous this could be for the crew and passengers of a manned aircraft.

With the recreational drone market expanding, there’s no reason for anyone to be left stranded on the ground. If you or someone you know received a drone this Christmas it is important to understand the regulations. By following the regulations set out people can experience the wonder that flying a drone can bring without sacrificing any person or property’s safety.

The UKAB report for the Heathrow near-miss can be found here: http://www.airproxboard.org.uk/docs/423/2014117.pdf

You can find more information on the legislation on the CAA Unmanned Aircraft page.

If you are planning on getting or giving someone a drone for hobby flying you can find out more from the British Model Flying Association.

We would like to wish you a happy and prosperous 2015.

DronesElliott CorkeCAA