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GASCo Airprox of the Month

Nine airproxes involving drones and other objects were reported in the year to October 2014, 40 in 2015 and 77 in 2016. We have now reached the stage where the number of airproxes that involve a drone or unknown object in the Board’s monthly report exceeds the number of reports of airproxes between two aircraft. So far there have been no lives lost or personal injuries sustained from a collision with a drone but the increasing frequency of these reports must give considerable cause for concern.

Four of the drone airproxes in the December report were given a Risk Rating of A, the highest risk, and in all of these the separation was less than 100 ft or 30 m of the aircraft. All of the December reports were made by the crews of Commercial Air Traffic but there have been similar reports in the past by GA crews. None of the drone operators were found.

Even a small drone has the potential of causing catastrophic damage to an aircraft, particularly a light aircraft. Rotary wings must be especially at risk. This is a new and increasing risk for pilots.

Nearly all, maybe all, of the December Board’s incidents involved drones being flown way beyond the permitted limits. The highest reported was by an aircraft being flown at Flt Level 103, there was one down at 500 ft and the remainder were between 1700 ft and 6000 ft. The regulations are summarised below but it is clear that they are often ignored even assuming that the operators are aware of them.

The British Model Flying Association’s BMFA News reports that there is an ongoing public consultation by the Department of Transport. The objective is to “introduce new measures to ensure the successful uptake of drones is matched by strong safeguards to protect the public”. 

Potential measures within the consultation include: 

*  Mandatory registration of drones. 

*  Tougher penalties for illegal flying near no-fly zones and new signs for no-fly zones at sensitive sites such as airports and prisons. 

*Making drones electronically identifiable so the owners' details can be passed to police if they are spotted breaking the law.’

The Airprox Board summarises the regulations covering drones as follows:

There are no specific ANO regulations limiting the maximum height for the operation of drones or model aircraft that weigh 7kg or less other than if flown using FPV (First Person View) (with a maximum weight of 3.5kg) when 1000ft is the maximum height. Drones or models weighing between 7kg and 20kg are limited to 400ft unless in accordance with airspace requirements. Notwithstanding, there remains a requirement to maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. CAP 722 gives guidance that, within the UK, visual line of sight (VLOS) operations are normally accepted to mean a maximum distance of 500m [1640ft] horizontally and 400ft [122m] vertically from the Remote Pilot.

Neither are there any specific ANO regulations limiting the operation of models or drones in controlled airspace if they weigh 7kg or less other than if flown using FPV (with a maximum weight of 3.5kg) when they must not be flown in Class A, C, D or E, or in an ATZ during notified hours, without ATC permission. Drones or models weighing between 7kg and 20kg must not be flown in Class A, C, D or E, or in an ATZ during notified hours, without ATC permission. CAP722 gives guidance that operators of drones of any weight must avoid and give way to manned aircraft at all times in controlled Airspace or ATZ. CAP722 gives further guidance that, in practical terms, drones of any mass could present a particular hazard when operating near an aerodrome or other landing site due to the presence of manned aircraft taking off and landing. Therefore, it strongly recommends that contact with the relevant ATS unit is made prior to conducting such a flight.

Notwithstanding the above, all drone and model operators are also required to observe ANO 2016 Article 94(2) which requires that the person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made, and the ANO 2016 Article 241 requirement not to recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. Allowing that the term ‘endanger’ might be open to interpretation, drones and models of any size that are operated in close proximity to airfield approach, pattern of traffic or departure lanes, or above 1000ft agl (i.e. beyond VLOS (visual line of sight) and FPV (first-person-view) heights), can be considered to have endangered any aircraft that come into proximity. In such circumstances, or if other specific regulations have not been complied with as appropriate above, the drone operator will be judged to have caused the Airprox by having flown their drone into conflict with the aircraft.

A CAA web site provides information and guidance associated with the operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and CAP722 (UAS Operations in UK Airspace) provides comprehensive guidance.

Additionally, the CAA has published Drone Aware which states the responsibilities for flying unmanned aircraft.

 This includes:

‘You are responsible for avoiding collisions with other people or objects - including aircraft. Do not fly your unmanned aircraft in any way that could endanger people or property.

It is illegal to fly your unmanned aircraft over a congested area (streets, towns and cities). ..., stay well clear of airports and airfields’.

This has since been revised as follows:

A joint CAA/NATS web site provides information and guidance associated with the operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and CAP722 (UAS Operations in UK Airspace) provides comprehensive guidance.


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