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A fifth of near misses with aircraft caused by drones

Drones frequently cause problems in aviation. Every year, large numbers of drones drift into the flight paths of aircraft.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacting the aviation industry and grounding many aircraft, 109 near misses, or airproxes, were recorded between January and October 2020 by the UK Airprox board. 22 (20%) of these incidents were caused by drones.

This is the next biggest cause of airproxes after other aircraft.

In the same period during 2019, when airspaces were busier, 76 out of the 212 (35.8%) reported airproxes were attributed to drones.

Drones, airports and aircraft don’t mix well. One such event where this can be seen was in 2018, when Gatwick Airport closed for two days, due to a drone sighting.

In an article by The Guardian, looking into the Gatwick drone incident, David Dunn, a drone expert at Birmingham University, had said that “drones can be transformed into flying suicide vests”.

More recently on October 16, an Airbus A321 came within 20 ft of an object suspected to be a drone.

Drones can cause significant damage. Research published by the Department for Transport, shows that drones weighing 400g “can pose a critical risk to the windscreens and tail rotors of helicopters” and a 2kg drone could severely damage the windscreen of an airliner.

People who fly drones should know safety precautions. People who cause airproxes or other incidents, with their drones, are most likely novices or enthusiasts, who are not well versed in the regulations that they should follow.

To fly a drone between 250g and 20kg, people are required to pass an online theory test to obtain a flyer ID from the UK Civil Aviation Authority. People who are responsible for managing a drone must also obtain an operator ID.

It’s against the law to fly a drone above 400ft or within an airfield, without permission. Reckless behaviour with drones, that could negligently endanger an aircraft, is a criminal offence and offenders could potentially go to prison for up to five years.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said: “It is illegal to fly drones close to airports without permission and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including imprisonment. Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations. The rules for flying drones are designed to keep all airspace users safe.

“The Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone and model aircraft code provides advice on how to fly your drone safely and follow the rules. you can see it at www.caa.co.uk/drones".

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Saywah Mahmood

Saywah Mahmood

Aspiring Data Journalist | MA Interactive Journalism student (CityUniLondon)