Six months ago I received an email asking for a response to the House of Lords European Union Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee call for evidence for its inquiry into the ‘Civilian Use of Drones in the EU’.

As a key organisation in the field, I and several other colleagues got to work to document and submit NATS’ view on the matter. Last week the Committee reported its findings. The report touches on many topical areas for RPAS (Remotely Piloted Air Systems), such as privacy issues, regulation and insurance requirements but the key areas of interest to NATS are those relating to RPAS safety and their integration within the air traffic management system.

These are two key themes that dominated our written response back in September 2014.

I am pleased that the House of Lords Committee has taken on board our concerns and thoughts on the industry, particularly acknowledging that the important work being undertaken by the SESAR JU to integrate RPAS in the future should be complemented with work on the here and now, with small RPAS being the fastest growing sector in the industry today.

Current RPAS operations are limited to Line of Sight (LOS), and the report highlights that the success of the RPAS industry – both big and small – is dependent on the ability to move into Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.

Without changes in the regulations, the idea of delivery drones will never get off the ground.

Without changes in regulations, the idea of delivery drones will never get off the ground.

NATS is committed to working with both the regulators and operators to help safely integrate BVLOS operations into our airspace in the future. We support the growth of this industry, and initiatives such as the NATS ARPAS-UK Safety Partnership Agreement will allow us to discuss the safety issues associated with the RPAS/air traffic management Interface.

Finally, the report also acknowledges one of our key challenges with small RPAS; they are invisible to air traffic controllers and therefore we at NATS cannot provide separation or traffic information to our other airspace users.

As you may have seen in the news, in response to this challenge the House of Lords Committee has recommended the creation of an online database for which small RPAS pilots can provide details of their flights and in turn this can help inform other airspace users. We are already in discussions with various organisations about how we can help facilitate such a database.

If you have any small RPAS related questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via my author page or by leaving a comment below.

[Image via Flickr by kevlar]


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