Last month UK ministers proposed measures to prevent potential collisions of drones with passenger planes and an increase of fines for no-fly-zone violations.
Anyone buying a drone in the UK might soon have to be registered and undergo a safety test. Two ministers also want to make drones electronically identifiable on the ground, in order to make it easier for police to track devices to their owners.
The concerns of New Zealand pilots and air traffic controllers about the ‘woeful inadequacy’ of safety regulation around the commercial use of drones, or Unmanned Aerial System/Vehicles (UAS), are yet to be taken seriously, media have often reported in their interviews with NZALPA.
NZALPA has proposed that the Minister of Transport produce a consultation similar to counterparts in the UK.
The British government has launched consultation concerning the safety and privacy of drones, but at the same time looks to widen their use in society.
Current regulations by the Civil Aviation Authority (UK) require drones to be kept in line of sight, flown no higher than 120 metres, and fly at least 50 metres from buildings, vehicles, people or over large crowds. Anyone using a drone for commercial purposes has to register it with the UK’s CAA.
The UK’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Ahmad, said: “Drones are already being used by the Police, fire services and search and rescue in emergency situations, by energy, road and rail providers to inspect and maintain our key infrastructure, and by conservation organisations to monitor natural environments.
Drones are saving time and money, improving delivery of services in these areas, improving safety and even helping to save lives … But like many other technologies, drones can also be misused and challenge safety, security and privacy. Whilst the vast majority of drone users are law-abiding and have good intentions, it is likely that some are not aware of the rules that apply and inadvertently break them, risking safety, privacy and security.”
The consultation is published on gov.uk and the deadline for responding is 15 March 2017.
Back home, NZALPA’s advice to the Minister of Transport and the New Zealand CAA is based on the experience of the US Government “…who’ve instigated a ‘UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) Registration Programme’ for drones,” NZALPA President Tim Robinson said.
“'The CAA has been reluctant to share their information with us regarding UAS. This issue is far too crucial to the lives and wellbeing of New Zealanders and our international reputation to not heed expert advice on the effects of drones and other developing aviation technologies.
“It’s important to remember that drones were originally developed and used for military use and the US has considerable experience with both their success and failure, including the real consequences of drone near-encounters and accidents.
“This registration programme could be easily adopted here and would assist in addressing a serious flight safety issue and one which is set to increase significantly as more drones and UAS devices are released into New Zealand’s airspace.”
In the UK, aviation chiefs have received reports of 56 near-miss incidents between passenger jets and drones between January and October 2016.
In December 2016, The Guardian reported that fears of drones causing a major accident were reignited after two near-misses. The first incident was a 60-centimetre drone narrowly missing the right wing of a Boeing 767 as it came to land at Manchester Airport, while a drone the size of a football came within 20 metres of an Airbus 320 as it circled above London on its way to Heathrow.
“Should a drone come into contact with an aircraft then the consequences could be severe for those in the air and on the ground. Even a close encounter or near-miss has the potential to lead to a serious accident,” Robinson said.
It is suspected that a drone caused damage to a Boeing 737-700 operated by African carrier LAM Mozambique on January 5 this year. The plane sustained nose damage after colliding with an object on approach. The aircraft landed normally but several serious dents and tears were left on the aircraft’s right-hand side. There was no obvious bird debris.
“Pilots and air traffic controllers have the most to gain from technological aviation advances and we don’t want to put a chilling effect on exciting developments,” Tim Robinson said.
“But like our experience and specialised training has always shown us, we have to get the balance between innovation advancement and safety right.”
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- View the UK’s consultation Unlocking the UK’s High Tech Economy: Consultation on the Safe Use of drones in the UK here.