David Reynolds, NZALPA Senior Technical Officer, responds to questions raised on new drone legislation in the UK and safety issues affecting quadcopters.
I received a number of enquiries relating to the articles on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, in the last (November) edition of Uplink. I will attempt to clarify and expand on several points, particularly those relating to the UK’s recent and proposed law changes.
We have also seen what might be called the most significant airworthiness issue affecting a large number of the smaller ‘quadcopter’ devices in service to date. This matter is explained in more detail below.
Drone operations in the United Kingdom
From Monday 30 July 2018, updates to the UK’s Air Navigation Order (read Civil Aviation Act in New Zealand) came into force. A new operating height restriction of 400 feet, or 120 metres, has been introduced for all small-unmanned aircraft – mirroring New Zealand’s laws.
The amendments also state that drones must not be flown closer than 1km from the boundary of an airfield without prior permission. This is significantly different to New Zealand’s 4km limit, which was something of a surprise to us.
The UK penalties for failing to follow these rules are significant. Those breaching restrictions face fines of up to GBP 2,500 (approx. NZD4,700) and could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft – which carries a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.
New laws coming into force will require owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more to register with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The associated registration number must be displayed on a device. Drone ‘pilots’ will also be required to take an online safety test. These requirements come into force on 30 November 2019. Users who fail to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to GBP 1,000 (approx. NZD 1,900).
UK Police have additional powers to address illegal and unsafe use of drones, which includes ordering operators to ground drones where necessary. Officers are also able to seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit an offence.
Significant safety issues affecting quadcopters
A significant, single point of failure is currently affecting a large number of drone power systems. As a result, the device is unable to maintain controlled flight. Batteries are failing with a resultant loss of power and control.
The affected devices include DJI’s multi-rotor series of drones. A Safety Notice was issued by the UK CAA advising owners to stop using the drone, or take extra care. This was almost immediately mirrored by our own CAA and Australia’s CASA. In a nutshell, all operators are prohibited from flying over people until further notice.
To quote the UK CAA, the failure of these batteries will result “in the aircraft falling directly to the ground due to the immediate loss of lift with the remote pilot unable to control its subsequent flight path.”
I think we would all agree that such a prospect, when it relates to a pilotless air taxi, would place its occupants and those in its path in rather an unpleasant situation. Airworthiness standards anybody?
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