It is an unfortunate fact that as the number of quadcopters and other drones in our skies continues to increase so do incidents of drone near misses. The Sunday Times (19th April, 2015) contained an article by James Gillespie which lists three such incidents currently being investigated. The article quotes the UKAB (UK Airprox Board) which warns that since drones/UAV are so easily acquired and given that too many flyers either ignore or are unaware of the rules, the chances of a serious incident are increased.
To put it bluntly there are too many drones being flown by people who have no respect for the rules or who are ignorant of them, and they are taking alarming risks.
The list of incidents so far include:
- A paraglider ridge soaring in the Peak District. A drone came within 25ft and appeared to be following and filming (October 2014).
- An A320 pilot who saw a drone while on final approach into Heathrow (December 2014)
- The pilot of a helicopter on approach to Norwich airport saw a quadcopter 160ft in front and on this flight path. It was reported that the drone was being flown by a worker from a nearby industrial estate while on his lunch break. (September 2014)
- A gyrocopter on a training flight near Rochester when a UAV was spotted at 1,000ft and flying towards the pilot and instructor.
- Flights to and from one of Manchester Airport’s runways were suspended for 20 minutes after a drone was spotted nearby (April 2015)
Needless to say, the consequences of a catastrophe caused by a UAV are many and far reaching. Aside from a risk of an immediate loss of life to those in the air, and death or injury to those on the ground, the loss of one or more aircraft, and the damage to property on the ground, there are also the risks of tougher restrictions and outright bans of UAV flying for all but the most strictly licensed operators. Nobody wins and many have a lot to lose.
Ignorance of the Law is no protection from it. If the CAA come knocking at your door you won’t get much sympathy if your only defense is to say you weren’t aware of the rules and regulations. If you’re going to fly an aircraft, manned or unmanned, then it’s your responsibility to take all the necessary precautions, to plan the flight, and to ensure that it is safe and legal to fly.
The chances are that anyone reading this post is already aware of the rules and regulations, but as well as conducting our own flights safely and legally we must also be ready to tackle those who are contemptuous of the rules and who threaten our hobby and profession. Don’t be afraid to challenge those you see flying illegally. Sometimes all it takes is a quiet word and they will resolve to educate themselves. You might even be thanked for helping them!
On the other hand your approach might be met with a rebuff of one degree or another. In such cases, if the person is unwilling to accept that there are standards to be kept when flying UAV, then perhaps the only course of action is to draw the attention of the CAA to their activities.
Without listing all the pre flight planning that is advisable before you launch your multirotor into the air, it’s always worth reviewing your situational awareness of the airspace around your intended launch site:
- In what airspace is your take-off site?
- What airspace is above you e.g. beginning at 2,500ft?
- Where is the nearest airfield/airport?
- Where is the nearest farm airstrip or private airfield? (see Lockyears Farm ‘Strips’ Guide)
- Where is the nearest helicopter landing site? (it could be a hotel nearby)
- How far and in what direction would your UAV fly if you loss control?
Even if you’ve carried out all these checks it’s your responsibility as the pilot of an (unmanned) aircraft to keep a good look out and take necessary avoiding action if you consider there is a risk of your aircraft conflicting with other airspace users. Remember that your drone is hard to spot and other aircraft (balloons, for example) are less maneouverable. An assistant or spotter is often a sensible choice if you are preoccupied with filming or whatever else the UAV is doing.