24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

Serious drone near misses prompt warning from pilots

Pilots say a spate of serious near misses involving drones highlights the need for urgent action to integrate them in to airspace safely and prevent a collision with other aircraft.

In December the UK Proximity Board looked at 7 incidents involving drones: 4 of which were classed as the most serious category A, where a serious risk of collision existed. In one case a drone came very close to colliding with a Boeing 737 which was climbing out of Stansted. Other category A incidents took place at Heathrow, London City and Manchester.

Pilots say they welcome the growth in drone technology and can see important applications for them commercially and recreationally, but a collision with a commercial airliner or helicopter could be catastrophic. They say action must be taken now to ensure this doesn’t happen.

The British Airline Pilots Association is concerned the number of incidents could rise further over the next few months as people take their new Christmas presents in to the air for the first time, often with little or no handling experience or understanding of the rules of the air. It’s calling for stricter rules and a registration system so drone operators can be easily traced and prosecuted for any irresponsible flying. Pilots also want technology to stop drones from being able to fly in areas where they could meet commercial traffic to be routinely fitted to the devices.

BALPA Flight Safety Specialist Steve Landells says:

“Pilots can see that drones can be useful and fun to fly, but these near misses are becoming too regular an occurrence. We must act now to protect passengers and flight crew and make sure a catastrophic crash does not happen. The authorities must enforce current regulations and make sure new ones, such as compulsory insurance and registration, are brought in without delay.

“Pilots want to ensure technology to prevent drones from flying in areas of dense air traffic are put in place and also want drone designers to liaise with Air Traffic controllers to look at ways they can adapt drones to ensure they can be seen easily on radars.

“As the growth of drones flying by hobbyists continues, education and training are increasingly becoming key. Anyone flying a drone must do so in a safe and sensible way. If you don’t follow the rules or show consideration to others when flying you should be aware of the severe penalties you could face.”