Steve Landells
BALPA Flight Safety Specialist
Any responsible drone owner knows it’s important to avoid flying their device anywhere near an airport. But on a cold and wet day earlier in November, drone operators got the chance to get airborne at an airfield in the depths of Wiltshire. 

Compton Abbas Airfield was the host of an event organised by the CAA that aimed to bring the worlds of drone users together with manned aviation to look at how the two can be safely integrated. And BALPA was at the “Share the Air” event to meet drone pilots face to face and talk openly about why it’s important we get this right. 

Pilots of manned aircraft understandably have concerns about the rise in the number of near misses involving drones. Research carried out by BALPA, the Government and The Military Aviation Authority gave us our first real understanding of how dangerous a collision with a drone and an aircraft could be. And the results were worrying. Even a small device caused damage to the windscreens and helicopter rotor blades that could have catastrophic consequences. 

But what was reassuring about this event was to see that many drone users understand these concerns and are actively looking at ways of ensuring they fly their drones safely.



The event included informative presentations from the Airfield, the CAA, NATS and drone flying schools, and the focus was very clearly on safety. About half of the people who attended were drone operators while the other half were from a general aviation background. Many of the GA pilots also said they had an interest in owning or flying drones. 

And that’s an important point. Many pilots understand the huge potential that drones bring. At BALPA we understand the popularity of drones and can see that there many uses for the devices both commercially and recreationally. Our focus is looking at what that means for manned aviation and how we can share the sky safely. 

And this event was an opportunity for BALPA to show it is engaging directly with drone users to tackle the issue. I was at the event and spoke to numerous drone operators on the day. Many told me they would like clarity on the rules and how to fly safely. Several said they felt the leaflet on safe flying that comes with drones is good, but not enough. 

Many of the drone fliers were aware of the Government’s announcement that it’s looking in to a registration system for drones. Most drone users at this event saw this as a positive step but like BALPA they now want more detail on what registration would look like in practice. 

All the people I spoke to said education is the key and events like this, where we can speak pilot to pilot with the people at the controls of the drones is a big step in the right direction. 

Many of the drone users were surprised to hear that BALPA has opened its door to drone pilots. I explained that professional drone users can now apply for associate membership of BALPA. The aim is of course that BALPA will be able to give a voice to this emerging group and help harness their knowledge and understanding so that we can integrate drones safely in to the skies. 

I was pleased to see evidence that our message on drones was getting through. Hopefully those responsible drone users at this event will go out and spread the word further in the drone community. 

There is still a fair amount of work to be done to ensure drones don’t pose a threat to manned aviation. We must continue to press the government for details of its planned registration scheme and ensure that this does not get way laid or stuck in the red tape of parliament. 

At the same time, we must continue to take advantage of opportunities to educate drone users on the rules of the sky and learn from and listen to those who do fly responsibly. This sharing the air event was another step towards full integration of drones, but there is still a long way to go. 

For more information on safe drone flying:
1. Dronesafe
2. NATS Drone Portal
 

Posted on 24 November 2017

Comments 3
Comments
BALPA
Chris Rolland, please see details of BALPA drone membership in our April blog:

https://blog.balpa.org/Blog/April-2017/Beyond-the-norm-3-RPAS-membership

Drones can be great fun, and have huge commercial potential, but with a significant increase in near-misses in recent years it is clear the right rules and regulations are needed to enable them to share airspace safely. Having drone members in BALPA is a positive step.
29/11/2017 15:07:39

Chris Rolland
As a UAV pilot currently undergoing PfCO, the area of proper flight safety training for recreational pilots is of great concern -but I also wonder whether BALPA has considered extending membership of the trade union to professional UAV pilots? As the industry expands and regulations and certifications grow then this new group of aviation professionals would benefit from the advise and support of a trade union, which further brings together the manned and unmanned aviation communities together in common cause. While the level of examination and certification in a PfCO is a small fraction of that required for manned aviation, there is commonality - especially with regards to safety and those of us in the professional UAV community have an important part to play.
27/11/2017 10:43:22

Ian Lainchbury
Just to say that as a BMFA insured recreational "multirotor" pilot, it is highly likely to be Joe Public, who buys an over the counter machine, from toy grade to the more expensive DJI devices, that are the main issue here. Not those who fly their machines at recognised model flying sites. As BMFA members, we (speaking generally) are aware of the rules of flying "multirotors", and the stupidity and ignorance of those that fly them at and around airports. It is those people who risk both lives, and also bring the hobby into disrepute.
27/11/2017 10:25:26

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