The recreational and commercial use of small drones in the UK is on the rise.
These small drones, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) as they are formally known, are highly capable aircraft that give their operators immediate access to the skies and a chance to experience a different and unique perspective of the environment around them.
You can easily see why they are an attractive purchase.
It’s also no surprise then that there has been an increase in the number of incidents involving RPAS. The majority relate to their use near restricted military sites or at public events such as football matches or music festivals. Alarmingly, incidents are now also being reported relating to RPAS being flown in the vicinity of airfields, or at altitudes with other manned aircraft.
The commercial use of RPAS is tightly regulated with specific qualifications and permissions required to operate, however the recreational use of RPAS is a completely different challenge. It is very easy to buy and use one without any training or knowledge of the airspace rules, highlighting the need to support recreational operators in understanding their responsibilities as airspace users.
Operators should be aware that any RPAS less than 20kg is actually classified in the UK Air Navigation Order (ANO) as a ‘Small Unmanned Aircraft’ and is subject to rules and regulations just like manned aircraft. The rules determine where drones can and can’t be flown, height and distance restrictions and importantly the responsibilities of the operator. Currently, for Small Unmanned Aircraft, air traffic control is reliant on the operator’s adherence to these rules to ensure safe distances between the manned and unmanned world of aviation.
The challenge to air traffic control is that some RPAS are too small to be detected using traditional surveillance systems like radar. We therefore rely on RPAS operators contacting us so we can give them the information they need to decide whether their planned flight is in a location that might be hazardous to other aircraft.
If you’re flying within controlled airspace, then RPAS operators can get in touch with us via the NSF Process. This is required if your RPAS is more than 7kg, alternatively if it’s less than 7kg, contact details of the relevant local air traffic services unit can be found in the AD – Aerodrome – section of the AIP.
If you’re thinking of buying an RPAS, big or small, make sure you check out the guidance on the safe use of Small Unmanned Aircraft at www.caa.co.uk/uas. The CAA has also produced a quick-start guide to the rules of flying unmanned aircraft.
Finally, to learn more about the airspace you intend to fly in, SkyDemon Light is a free online flight planning tool for General Aviation pilots, but is a great starting point for RPAS operators too.
Happy – and safe – flying!
[Header image via Flickr by trotaparamos]
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