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Share the air event brings drones and aviation safety together

by Steve Landells BALPA Flight Safety Specialist

Any responsible drone owner knows it’s important to avoid flying their device anywhere near an airport. But on a cold and wet day earlier in November, drone operators got the chance to get airborne at an airfield in the depths of Wiltshire.

Compton Abbas Airfield was the host of an event organised by the CAA that aimed to bring the worlds of drone users together with manned aviation to look at how the two can be safely integrated. And BALPA was at the “Share the Air” event to meet drone pilots face to face and talk openly about why it’s important we get this right.

Pilots of manned aircraft understandably have concerns about the rise in the number of near misses involving drones. Research carried out by BALPA, the Government and The Military Aviation Authority gave us our first real understanding of how dangerous a collision with a drone and an aircraft could be. And the results were worrying. Even a small device caused damage to the windscreens and helicopter rotor blades that could have catastrophic consequences.

But what was reassuring about this event was to see that many drone users understand these concerns and are actively looking at ways of ensuring they fly their drones safely.

The event included informative presentations from the Airfield, the CAA, NATS and drone flying schools, and the focus was very clearly on safety. About half of the people who attended were drone operators while the other half were from a general aviation background. Many of the GA pilots also said they had an interest in owning or flying drones.

And that’s an important point. Many pilots understand the huge potential that drones bring. At BALPA we understand the popularity of drones and can see that there many uses for the devices both commercially and recreationally. Our focus is looking at what that means for manned aviation and how we can share the sky safely.

And this event was an opportunity for BALPA to show it is engaging directly with drone users to tackle the issue. I was at the event and spoke to numerous drone operators on the day. Many told me they would like clarity on the rules and how to fly safely. Several said they felt the leaflet on safe flying that comes with drones is good, but not enough.

Many of the drone fliers were aware of the Government’s announcement that it’s looking in to a registration system for drones. Most drone users at this event saw this as a positive step but like BALPA they now want more detail on what registration would look like in practice.

All the people I spoke to said education is the key and events like this, where we can speak pilot to pilot with the people at the controls of the drones is a big step in the right direction.

Many of the drone users were surprised to hear that BALPA has opened its door to drone pilots. I explained that professional drone users can now apply for associate membership of BALPA. The aim is of course that BALPA will be able to give a voice to this emerging group and help harness their knowledge and understanding so that we can integrate drones safely in to the skies.

I was pleased to see evidence that our message on drones was getting through. Hopefully those responsible drone users at this event will go out and spread the word further in the drone community.

There is still a fair amount of work to be done to ensure drones don’t pose a threat to manned aviation. We must continue to press the government for details of its planned registration scheme and ensure that this does not get way laid or stuck in the red tape of parliament.

At the same time, we must continue to take advantage of opportunities to educate drone users on the rules of the sky and learn from and listen to those who do fly responsibly. This sharing the air event was another step towards full integration of drones, but there is still a long way to go.

For more information on safe drone flying:
1. Dronesafe
2. NATS Drone Portal