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Drone safety at 400ftBritain

by Jonathan Nicholson Assistant Communications Director

Earlier this year when we sat down to plan a significant campaign to educate drone users on safety we were well aware we had to think very differently to how we run our usual safety campaigns.

Our prime interest in this project is getting people to fly drones safely and therefore remove as far as possible their risk to other aviation users. Plus making sure that all the good things drones can do for us in the long-term are not adversely affected.

Its common knowledge that the number of drone incidents is increasing and educating users of the rules and the right way to fly is one of the key solutions to that issue. Others being the technology fitted to drones, such as geofencing, that helps to keep them away from controlled airspace and ground-based solutions such as blocking devices.

Normally with our campaigns we’re talking to an aviation audience – whether it be a pilot, air traffic controller or ground handler – they are someone who is actively involved in the aviation industry in some way.

But for non-professional drone users their only interaction and knowledge of aviation might well be one flight a year they take to go on holiday. So we had to take a different approach to normal.

We will always be very public about the enforcement action and penalties that drone users face if they endanger aircraft but people don’t always react to those kind of messages. Some will immediately switch off, others think that it doesn’t apply to them, or they will have a genuine belief that their activity doesn’t affect others, even if it does.

So, we’ve set out to be as engaging as possible. Approaching the audience in ways that interest them and then, once we have their attention, making sure they absolutely get the safety message we want to pass on.

One of the first key elements of this was the launch last week of our 400ft Britain drone photography and video competition (www.400ftBritain.com), which we’re really pleased BALPA is supporting. We’re seeking the best photo and video of the beautiful British countryside shot by drone.

This is absolutely not the kind of thing you would normally expect an aviation safety regulator to be behind. But we think it’s an obvious way to engage with our target audience and the drone rules and regulations are key to the competition.

We’re getting the height we recommend people don’t exceed with a drone – 400ft – straight into the title and emphasising that drone users must comply with the dronecode safety rules to be able to enter. It’s got great coverage in the national media, which will reach the causal drone users, and in the first few days we’ve had over 300 entrants who have, of course, been exposed to the safety rules.

Following very soon we’ll be re-launching the UK dronecode and a specific website to make it even simpler for people to understand safe drone flying.  

Throughout the campaign we’re working with BALPA, the wider aviation industry and, really importantly, drone users, manufacturers and those selling drones to make sure the advice is what people really want and it reaches as many drone users as possible.

Christmas is an obvious period for us to be out and about with the drone safe flying message so we’ll be active then. We’re also working with airports to get drone safety messages to schoolchildren living near airports and using as many other channels as possible.  

This is the biggest drone education campaign ever in the UK. But we must acknowledge that this is a long-term piece of work. We’re running a behavioural change programme, similar to the drink drive campaign or the well-known stop, look listen road safety advice. These take time to break through into common knowledge with the general public. But we believe this work has to take place and we’re determined to put the effort and resource in place to make it a success and therefore improve safety.