Why the concern? 

For several years, pilots have voiced concern about the increasing number of near misses between drones and manned aircraft and the potential these devices have to cause a catastrophic collision.  

Collision testing:

BALPA led the way in getting the Department for Transport and the Military Aviation Authority to co-sponsor collision testing that concluded that at speeds at which aircraft routinely operate, a drone could cause serious damage to the windscreen or rotors of an aircraft or helicopter.

The ongoing campaign: 

BALPA has run a high-profile campaign calling for changes to laws to ensure these devices can safely be integrated in to airspace. And the Government listened. First it brought in new laws to limit drones to 400 feet and stop them flying within 1 km of an airport. And later, following numerous calls from BALPA to make the restricted zone larger and the Gatwick attack, came the announcement that the restricted zone was to be made bigger and police are to be given greater powers when it come to drones.

The road to drone legislation: 

April 2017 
BALPA wrote directly to Chris Grayling calling for swift government action to tackle this potentially life-threatening risk.

July 2017
Research is published jointly by BALPA, the Department for Transport and the Military Aviation Authority into the impact of a collision. The results of this study confirmed that a drone colliding with an aircraft (particularly helicopters) could be catastrophic. The research was subsequently classified making it difficult for us to make full use of the information.

July 2017
The Government announces some new drone laws, including mandatory training and registration, to come into place in November 2019. BALPA questions why this can't be sooner.

May 2018
The Government announces extra drone laws, including a 1km restriction zone. BALPA raises concerns that this is too small and set about convincing other aviation organisations as to what needs to be done, the Government opens up a consultation. 

September 2018
The consultation closes. BALPA pushes for Government response.

December 2018
Just a few days before Christmas, a drone sighting at Gatwick causes the airport to close, affecting up to 140,000 passengers. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

January 2019
BALPA welcomes the Government announcement on tougher drone laws, including more police powers and an increased restriction zone, but says there is still work to be done.

January 2019
Heathrow is forced to close following another drone sighting




 BALPA Position

Pilots continue to work with the Government and are calling for urgent action on the following: 

Testing: further testing to improve understanding of just how damaging drones could be to aircraft. 

Drone detection equipment: on the 9th December 2018 BALPA also asked the Government to ensure that every airport urgently puts drone safety measures in place in the interest of public safety and avoiding delays. We want technology to be fitted to drones to make them “visible” to Air Traffic Controllers, so if one is flown in an irresponsible manner ATC can issue avoidance action to the manned aircraft and they know the exact location to send the police to.

Helicopter protection: measures should be put in place to protect helicopters when they are operating away from an airfield. This could be technology that ensures drones cannot fly within 3 km of a helicopter unless the helicopter pilot gives permission. 

Registration and Education: registration and testing laws to be brought in, as promised, by November 2019. Individual drones should be registered- just like cars or guns. All drone users need to be aware of the dangers. We are pressing for better education, compulsory registration during which the rules are made quite clear and more high-profile prosecutions of offenders.

Pilots know that drones are here to stay. Commercially, drones are flown by trained professionals and BALPA is pleased to be opening its doors to offer them Associate Membership so together we can drive up standards and bring forward the highest levels of safety across all aviation.

More information: 
Results of BALPA’s collision testing.
Find out about reported near misses involving drones from the UK Airprox Board.