The British Airline Pilots Association warned that drones pose a threat to air traffic that could lead to a major disaster. Its most recent comment was after a drone incident temporarily slowed plane departures at Gatwick airport.
BALPA Flight Safety Specialist, Steve Landells wrote:
Yet another incident at Gatwick involving drones shows that the threat of drones being flown near manned-aircraft must be addressed before we see a disaster.
Drones can be great fun, and have huge commercial potential, but with a significant increase in near-misses in recent years it seems not everyone who is flying them either know or care about the rules that are in place for good reason.
While we take no issue with people who fly their drones in a safe and sensible manner, some people who fly them near airports or densely populated areas are behaving dangerously.
We believe a collision, particularly with a helicopter, has the potential be catastrophic.
Measures should be put in place that will allow the police to identify and locate anyone who flies a drone in an irresponsible way.
Owing to the huge numbers of drones being sold, more technological solutions will undoubtedly be required to address this problem and should be mandated.
These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner.
If the user has endangered an aircraft, we would like to see the culprit prosecuted; endangering an aircraft has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The drone industry has exploded recently, as have comments about the safety of the devices. Engadget recently reported that there are 700,000 registered drone owners in the United States. Drones run from those used for recreation to military versions that can deliver weapons at distances hundreds of miles from where they are launched. They also are seen as a potential weapon for terrorists are well.
The FAA has pushed for regulation of all drones, and its ongoing efforts to do so may be successful. However, as the Gatwick incident points out, the random use of drones is a problem, and one that poses dangers. Legislation and regulation will not entirely address that, as long as just a few people break the law.