MP calls for drones to be registered, especially those that can reach several thousand feet
Date added: April 19, 2016
David Burrowes, the MP for Enfield Southgate, has called for high-powered drone owners to be forced to sign a register after British Airways flight BA727 from Geneva was struck by a device as it came in to land at Heathrow on 17th, probably in the Richmond area. Mr Burrowes, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the gadgets can no longer be treated as an “innocent leisure pursuit” because of the security risks and potential for mass casualties. He also suggested looking at introducing licences for some of the more sophisticated models in order to aid police and investigators. There have been numerous incidents of near misses in the past year or so, with Heathrow having the UK’s largest number. Tens of thousands of drones, which can cost between £25 and £20,000 with the high-end ones being able to reach 6,000 feet, have been bought across Britain in the last few years and can be used without a licence or having to register with the CAA. Mr Burrowes said “at the very least there should be a register for the owner of drones.” Owners of those that are capable of rising to several thousand feet should be “willing to accept a basic registration system.” Currently the police do not have records of drone ownership. The CAA has a code for the use of drones.
Heathrow plane pose risk of causing mass casualties
By David Churchill (Evening Standard)
18 April 2016
A London MP has called for high-powered drone owners to be forced to sign a register after a British Airways flight was struck by a device as it came in to land at Heathrow Airport.
David Burrowes, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the gadgets can no longer be treated as an “innocent leisure pursuit” because of the security risks and potential for mass casualties.
He also suggested looking at introducing licences for some of the more sophisticated models in order to aid police and investigators.
He was speaking after a BA flight from Geneva in Switzerland was yesterday struck by what is believed to be a drone as it came in to land at Heathrow following a string of near misses in recent months.
The pilot of flight BA727 reported being hit at about 12.50pm [earlier, as it landed at about 12.35pm] as the Airbus A320 approached Terminal Five with 132 passengers and five crew on board.
Tens of thousands of drones, which can cost between £25 and £20,000 with the high-end ones being able to reach 6,000 feet, have been bought across Britain in the last few years and can be used without a licence or having to register with the Civil Aviation Authority.
Mr Burrowes, also MP for Enfield Southgate, told the Standard: “You can’t just treat drones as an innocent leisure pursuit, it’s something that does and can cause serious security risks and potentially life-threatening risks.
“I think at the very least there should be a register for the owner of drones.
“I think if you’re going to be buying these high-powered drones, which are different from the toy drones which can’t go above trees because they have special powers to be able to go up into the skies, if you’re willing to buy that type of sophisticated drone you should be willing to accept a basic registration system.
“One of the problems for police is they haven’t got much chance of enforcing things if they don’t know who owns these drones and so they need help to do this.”
He said the Heathrow incident was “appalling”, adding: “The prospect of drones colliding with planes is very serious. We can’t just ignore it.”
Scotland Yard has launched an investigation after the pilot reported that the plane was hit by what he believed was a drone. No arrests have been made.
A force spokesman added: “The flight landed at Heathrow Terminal Five safely. It transpired that an object, believed to be a drone, had struck the front of the aircraft.”
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) “drone code” says the unmanned craft should not be flown above 400 feet and kept away from planes, helicopters, airports and airfields. Those with cameras fitted should also be kept 50m from people, vehicles, buildings and other structures.
A BA spokesman said: “Our aircraft landed safely, was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.”
‘Drone’ hits British Airways plane approaching Heathrow, with no damage caused
April 18, 2016
The British Airways flight BA727 from Geneva was hit by a drone as it approached Heathrow (in the Richmond area) at about 12:50pm on Sunday 17th. The plane was an Airbus A320, with 132 passengers and five crew on board. After landing safely, the pilot reported an object – believed to be a drone – had struck the front of the plane. It did not do serious damage, and a BA spokesman said the plane “was fully examined by our engineers and it was cleared to operate its next flight.” This is thought to be the first time a drone has actually hit a plane, with many previous incidents of near misses. BA is giving the police “every assistance with their investigation” and the Metropolitan Police are asking the public to help if they have information. The CAA said it is illegal to fly drones near airports, and the penalties include imprisonment. In March, BALPA called for research by the DfT and the CAA into what would happen if a drone hit an airliner, after 23 near-misses around UK airports between 11th April and 4th October 2015. The effect could be serious if a drone smashed into the cockpit windscreen, or if it crashed into an engine. Unlike with bird strikes, the drones carry lithium batteries – there is concern these could cause a serious engine fire.
Moves to tighten rules on drones have been promised by the government after theLabour party and pilots’ unions called for urgent action, including a possible register of drone users and “geo-fencing” of airports, after a British Airways plane was struck on its descent into Heathrow.
Sunday’s incident is believed to be the first such collision between a passenger plane and a drone, after a series of near misses that led pilots to warn that a strike could be disastrous. The Air Accidents Investigations Branch said it would launch an inquiry.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would hold a public consultation before a strategy is published later this year. Labour has accused ministers of dragging their feet after aviation authorities confirmed a number of potentially serious incidents in 2015, including 23 near misses between aircraft and drones in six months investigated by the UK Airprox Board.
A DfT spokesperson said: “The government is leading efforts with international bodies to develop a stringent regulatory framework focusing on safety and a working group is looking at the issue.”
However, Labour said the working group had been in existence since 2013. The shadow aviation minister, Richard Burden, said: “Yesterday’s drone collision with a plane sadly comes as no surprise and we should be thankful that the pilot was able to land the plane safely. For months we have seen a rising number of near misses and Labour has consistently urged the government to wake up to the problem.
“We know drones pose a very real threat to public safety and we should learn the lessons from places like the US which have been quick to introduce a registration process.”
He added: “We need action but we are still yet to see even a consultation on the options. This now must happen as soon as possible.”
The Metropolitan police were contacted by the pilot and are investigating the incident. However, in most incidents confirmed by the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Airprox Board, the operator of the drone has not been traced by police, although flying drones in the vicinity of airports is against the law.
Breaching drone rules would generally be summary offences with penalties decided by a court, but a more serious offence of recklessly endangering an aircraft carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
A CAA spokesperson said: “Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world – a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft.”
The pilots union Balpa has been calling for a register of users, after a series of incidents at major airports around the country including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester in the last year. Steve Landells, Balpa’s flight safety specialist, said: “Frankly it was only a matter of time before we had a drone strike, given the huge numbers being flown around by amateurs who don’t understand the risks and the rules.”
He added: “Much more education of drone users and enforcement of the rules is needed to ensure our skies remain safe from this threat.”
Other industry experts joined the call for tighter rules. James Stamp, the global head of aviation at KPMG, said: “People who fly drones in controlled airspace are potentially putting lives in danger, and should be subject to the strongest possible sanctions available under the law. A number of practical steps should be taken, including requiring drones to be registered, tougher penalties for irresponsible behaviour, and technology-based solutions that will prevent the drones entering restricted airspace in the first place.”
Earlier this year the Oxford Research Group thinktank highlighted the risk of civilian drones being used by terrorist or criminal groups, and suggested “geo-fencing”, where manufacturers would be required to install the GPS coordinates of no-fly zones in drones to prevent them functioning in those areas.
The rules on drones
The Civil Aviation Authority sets the regulations for the use of drones, or “small unmanned aircraft” weighing 20kg or less. The drone user must:
Ensure its operation does not endanger anyone or anything.
Maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the drone to monitor its flight path (normally keeping it within 500 metres horizontally and 150 metres vertically).
Not allow any article to be dropped from the drone to endanger persons or property.
Not fly a drone above 150 metres or in the vicinity of airports without air traffic control approval.
Not fly it within 150 metres of any congested area, or crowd of people, without CAA permission.