The British government recently introduced new laws requiring all drones to be registered with the UK regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and mandatory online safety tests for registered drone users. The new laws will come into effect at the end of November next year.
However, following the October near-miss at London’s Heathrow Airport, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), is urging its government to bring forward the programme for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) education and registration.
In what could have been an aviation disaster, the ‘drone-like object’ passed below the right wing of a Boeing 787 on approach to Heathrow’s runway 27L over Clapham, south London.
Incredibly, the object avoided hitting the engine by just 10 feet (three metres). This “high risk of collision” event occurred at around 3,200 feet - eight times higher than the recently introduced 400 feet legal maximum altitude for drone flights in the UK.
Here in New Zealand, we had a similar near-miss in October involving an Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust flight. This incident occurred over Takapuna, where the drone was flown at an altitude four times higher than the legal height of 120 metres, and just 3-4 metres from the helicopter. This reckless act put at risk the crew, the people who were waiting to be rescued, and those people in the built-up area below the aircraft.
Against this backdrop of regular near-miss drone incidents, it seems our campaign for UAV registration is so far falling on deaf ears. The government is opting instead for online education via the CAA website, rather than taking on board the urgency of the issue through licencing or direct enforcement against their misuse. Our lobbying of the Minister will continue unabated.
Against this backdrop of regular drone near-miss incidents, it seems our campaign for UAV registration is so far falling on deaf ears. The government is opting instead for online education via the CAA website, rather than taking on board the urgency of the issue through licencing or direct enforcement against their misuse. Our lobbying of the Minister will continue unabated.
As our colleagues in BALPA made clear to their policy-makers, “This near-miss is further evidence that tougher laws and enforcement are required to keep drones clear of manned flights.”
While we remain disappointed at the slow response for regulatory change from our government, we continue working with other industry stakeholders who, like us, remain seriously concerned that it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic incident involving a drone occurs.
We also continue to lobby government regarding pilot supply in New Zealand, as well as working with industry to seek ways to address this issue. As a part of this NZALPA has been working on a joint project with the Massey University School of Aviation analysing pilot career progression in New Zealand, funding and training options, and employment opportunities for graduates and low-hour pilots.. The full report will be released later this month, and we will cover its findings in the December quarterly edition.
At the same time, we have also contacted the Minister of Education, Hon Chris Hipkins, about career pathways and student support policies for aviation students. He has advised that the government has no plans at this stage to examine support policies for student pilots.
While we find this hands-off approach very disappointing, we agree with his view that part of the problem is the employment opportunities available to recent pilot graduates, their low starting salaries, and the generally long route to high-paying jobs. Pilot graduates start their careers with very large student loans. As a result, many potential pilots are put off from pursuing this career path, or graduates are forced to leave the industry for better-paying jobs. This all puts pressure on the increasing pilot supply issue we face in New Zealand.
It’s time for all employers to work collectively with NZALPA as we seek to address this issue; otherwise we face a race to the bottom with consequent risks to public safety and pilot welfare.
* Read BALPA’s full media statement later on page 9.
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