Drones need stricter regulation, say pilots

Europe's pilots want the weight of civil drones to be limited to 500g. [Ted Eytan/Flickr]

Europe’s association of professional airline pilots has expressed its concern over the sharp increase in the use of civil drones and the risks they pose to passenger aircraft. La Tribune reports.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA), which represents 38,000 pilots across the continent, is worried about the use of drones, particularly in the close vicinity of airports. Last week it published a position paper on the standards and rules it sees as necessary to ensure safe use of civil drones.

For the ECA, “it is absolutely critical that the technology is introduced safely, in particular with regard to existing manned aviation”. The industry body also believes that “a future accident involving drones in which people are seriously harmed will do far more damage to the industry’s development than carefully thought out, effective, efficient regulation”.

Safety must be prioritised “over the ability or right to operate a drone,” the pilots said.

Study on the impact of a drone-aeroplane collision

This argument is all the more important, as most civil drones placed in the “open” category by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) are marketed as products of mass consumption, according to the ECA.

The pilots warn that the performance capabilities of civil drones will increase significantly in coming years. “Regulation needs to deal with this. This cannot happen without proper risk assessment, especially of mid-air collision risk,” the ECA said.

It called for a ban on operating drones in airspace used by commercial aircraft, as well as a study into the effects of a collision between a drone and a passenger plane, which they hope will answer “urgent” questions. They also recommend equipping drones with an automatic recovery system in case the pilot loses control, a weight limit of 500 grammes and a system for tracing drone pilots.

Numerous incidents

The rising number of incidents appears to justify the pilots’ concerns. Just last week, the crew of a Lufthansa aircraft on its way from Munich to Warsaw reported to Polish air traffic control that they had passed within 100 metres of a drone. The Lufthansa plane was around ten kilometres from Warsaw Okecie airport and at an altitude of 700 metres when the pilots spotted the flying object, which did not disrupt their landing.

“It was probably a drone, whose presence in this area was inadmissible,” a spokesperson for the agency said. As a precaution, around 20 aircraft arriving in Warsaw were forced to change their approach plan, before normal service was resumed. The police interviewed the suspected pilot of the drone, an inhabitant of Piaseczno, the town adjacent to the airport. The man could face the charge of creating a danger for air traffic, an offence punishable by up to eight years in prison. A similar incident occurred last year in Krakow.

On 21 July, firefighters in California complained of five drones hampering their fire-fighting efforts by flying too close to their helicopters. In France, since the beginning of this year, three drone flights have been signalled by pilots on the approach to Orly and two on the approach to Roissy airports, according to a spokesperson of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation.

This article appeared on EURACTIV France

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