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Act now on proven drone collision threat say pilots

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has responded to the publication on Saturday morning of the independent test results of drone collisions with aircraft. The project was jointly funded by BALPA, the Department for Transport and the Military Aviation Authority.

BALPA believes the results of the tests are a robust verification of the Association’s warnings over several years that drone impacts on aircraft windscreens and helicopter rotors can be catastrophic, even at relatively modest speeds with small drones, and that the industry and regulator cannot rely on birdstrike data and certification for drones.

The picture below, taken during the testing, shows a larger hobbyist-class drone penetrating an aircraft windscreen.

The full publication of the drone collisions testing can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/drones-and-manned-aircraft-collisions-test-results

Brian Strutton, BALPA General Secretary, said:

“We wrote to the Secretary of State on 20th April 2017 calling for swift Government action to tackle this potentially life-threatening risk and the independent report fully justifies this.

“Pilots have been warning about the rise in the number of cases of drones being flown irresponsibly close to aircraft and airports for some time.

“This report clearly shows that readily-available drones which can be flown by anyone can shatter or go straight through an aircraft windshield or shatter a helicopter rotor. And those impacts would have catastrophic consequences.

“We are pleased the Department for Transport and Military Aviation Authority partnered with this BALPA on this testing and we are reassured that the matter is being taken seriously in the corridors of power.

“We will wait to see the details, but we are encouraged that the Government has taken onboard calls for a registration and licensing scheme for drones and drone users. This will help ensure users understand and follow safety rules, and help the police trace drones if needed.

“We hope that urgent Government action will now follow to control this proven threat before there is a disaster and lives are lost.”

BALPA is calling for:

  • Compulsory registration of drones and drone users, to improve traceability, and promote adherence to existing regulations.
  • Mandatory geo-fencing around airports to reduce conflict with aircraft.
  • Investment in technology to allow air traffic controllers to “see” drones when a conflict with a manned aircraft is possible.
  • Resourcing the police and the CAA to enforce the law and ensure safe skies.
  • High-profile prosecutions to highlight the problem and make people aware that flying drones dangerously could lead to five years in prison.
  • Immediate introduction of air traffic control procedures to reduce aircraft speeds to safe levels when a drone is reported as a possible threat.

Statistics on near misses with drones are available from the UK Airprox Board here: https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/Topical-issues-and-themes/Drones/