A research has shown that there has been an exorbitant increase in drone related incidents in the UK in 2018. About 125 dangerously close incidents were reported by the UK Airprox in the year which is almost 33% higher than 2017 when only 93 such encounters were recorded. The year 2016 saw only 71 such incidents. It is quite terrifying to learn that 39 out of the 125 such encounters took place at the UK’s busiest airport Heathrow.
UK drone incidents rise sharply according to safety experts
Heathrow airport released a statement wherein the authorities highlighted their efforts to bolster the capacities to detect and prevent drones from adversely affecting the airport operations. The airport authorities also emphasized the need for the government agencies to come up with appropriate regulations and enforcement protocols to keep the country’s skies safe with the ever-evolving drone technology.Rob Hunter, the head of flight safety at Balpa, the British Pilots Union, wrote in an article in the Financial Times that the stark rise in drone related incidents was quite troubling as a drone coming in the way of a commercial aircraft or a helicopter could prove to be catastrophic.
Fascinatingly, the Gatwick drone drama that kept the airport shut down for three days on the trot, is not included in this figure of 125 as the pilots along with the air traffic controllers did not feel that the safety of the aircrafts had been compromised. Gatwick Airport is the second busiest airport in the UK and handles about 284,000 flights on annual basis. However, the air space it operates in is quite smaller than Heathrow’s and hence leaves room for a lot lesser drone encounters.Right after the Gatwick drone drama, the government passed a legislation that expanded the drone exclusion zone around the airports from 1Km to 5Km. The government had already announced that drone pilots will be required to get themselves registered and pass a test from November 2019 onwards.
According Mr. Hunter, the number of close drone encounters in the UK for the year 2018 could be much higher than the reported 125 as, he believes, the drones to be quite hard to spot and the reports by the research firm are quite restrictive in nature and it could be difficult to define a near-miss.The International Civil Aviation Organization defines an Airprox incident or a near-miss as when a drone or a certain object comes dangerously close to an aircraft and is determined by the opinion of the pilot or the air traffic controller whether the safety has been compromised or not.
Rupert Dent, the regulations director at Arpas, the drone trade association, says that the problem with this definition is that one can only begin with a visual report and a pilot can only report what he thinks he saw. He adds that this definition is too vague to be honest.While formulating the future regulations in the country related to drones, the Airprox figures are critical for the government and can play a vital role in restricting flights near airports and airfields.Mr. Hunter states that the vague definition of a near miss and complications involved in spotting a drone can be a couple of reasons for the drone related incidents to be higher than that reported. We believe that the number of near misses could be lower in reality as well as people can mistake other objects for drones.
There have been several reports including drone incidents at Gatwick, Heathrow and Newark Airport. In all these incidents, drones were blamed for the fiasco but there is no concrete evidence to prove that it were the drones who were responsible in reality. In another incident, a drone was held responsible for the sudden failure of the windshield of a micro-light airplane in New Zealand which was actually caused by prolonged UV exposure and not by a drone. DJI also requested people to exercise restraint in blaming drones for all the ills in the airspace.
It said in a statement that the company advised caution in blaming drones without thorough investigation. It added that the true culprits turn out to be a plastic bag, structural failure, a bat and a balloon. The company did admit that there were instances of irresponsible drone flights but on the whole, drones had been able to showcase a safe record around the world and a vast majority of drone pilots wanted to fly their gizmos in a safe manner.