Yesterday I gave evidence to the Science & Technology Select Committee in Parliament as part of its inquiry into commercial and recreational drone use.  It is really encouraging to see Parliament taking this issue so seriously.

The theme of discussion for the session was: The risks posed by drone technology to both manned aircraft and individuals.  Topics included risks to aircraft, how permission for access should be sought, how drone misuse should be dealt with, and the effectiveness of counter-drone technologies at detecting, identifying and neutralising rogue drones.

It was in the context of this discussion that I spoke about how the irresponsible use of drones should be countered in different ways.  I was trying to talk about the misuse of drones and how different types of misuse should be dealt with differently.

It is now very clear that I made a mistake saying this. My words were inappropriate.  I got it wrong.  I would like to apologise to any drone pilots, the vast majority of whom are extremely responsible, who have been offended by my remarks.  I can assure you that we do not ‘categorise’ drone users and believe passionately in fair access to airspace for all users who abide by the rules.  I will ensure the Committee understands this position.

At NATS we work closely with the drone pilot community and value their input enormously.  Most are responsible pilots, and we are putting huge effort into ensuring they have the best and safest experience they can when they’re flying.  We do not want the many to be tarnished by the misdeeds of the few.

We have taken a number of pro-active measures to promote the safe use of drones, including the launch of the Drone Assist safety app, which now has more than 130,000 registered users, and the joint launch with the Civil Aviation Authority of a drone safety website

NATS safely manages millions of flights in UK airspace every year; the existing safety management cultures and methods of operation that enable us to achieve this are equally applicable to keeping our skies safe with growing volumes of unmanned traffic.  We are working hard, and we want to continue to cooperate closely with the drone pilot community on a range of solutions that will help us deliver that.


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richard Franks

This is typical, Drone pilots are different to Model Aircraft pilots.These people do not understand or listen and tar all model pilots with the same brush. Introducing a registration scheme will not stop the idiot Drone pilots who, flying illegally, caused the chaos at the airport.



David Goddard

too little, too late, once seen and heard by the Committee it can’t be undone !



Brian West

How about an apology to the AEROMODELLING community, who having an exemplary safety record over many decades of lawful activity, now finds itself lumped into the same category as ‘drones’ and is being burdened with unnecessary red tape and costs. Or pigs might fly! Oh no, if they did there would probably be a law against them doing so.
Mr. Sage has (when pushed) realised that the actions of a minority or irresponsible and / or criminal ‘drone’ operators should not disadvantage the majority; now he, the Government and the CAA need to take this into account when calling for draconian measures that adversely affect the majority whilst having little or no effect on the actions of the real perpetrators of alleged incidents involving ‘drones’.



Sheldon Holy

I feel I speak for the majority of the drone community here when I say that this “apology” is too little, too late. Governing bodies such as NATS are clearly very much against the non-commercial use of drones, as evidenced by your blatant and crude comments concerning (3 “C”s, see what I did there?) some hundreds of thousands of people across the UK. What is needed is not an apology, but some real concern and thought as to what is needed to solve this perceived problem, as well as some realistic viewpoints about the scale of the “drone problem” and not some of the typical hyperbole that we’ve come to expect from jobsworths in organisations such as NATS, CAA, DfT, BALPA etc… who are peddling this pointless and useless legislation.



Colin Mc

I think the hard working PfCO pilots appreciate the apology as do all the responsible, law abiding drone enthusiasts.



Keith Barker

How are you going to undo the harm you have caused?
Why are model flyers who have been flying for over 100 years with a safety record second to none, being ignored?
The BMFA has over 63,000 members but is not being recognised in al this – British justice?




Hopefully we will be seeing you providing an official retraction of your comment in front of the meeting panel and on Parliament TV. This is the only way you can undo what you’ve done.




NATs seems to cause confusion here with terminology. You talk here only of “drones”. Is this intentional or are you intending to include radio controlled model aircraft that the CAA put within the SUA definition?
This is not at all helpful.




My hobby is very important to me. Thank you for your apology.



David Steer

I fly a model plane and it is not a drone.



Allan David Cliff Warner

I have no doubt that the registration and competency requirements will have little to no impression on the ‘confused’ and/or the ‘complacent’. As to the ‘criminal’ element I’m sure(not) that before a ‘prison drugs run’ or an ‘airport disruption’ they will ensure that they have registered and past the competency test along with having fixed both serial numbers to the exterior of the ‘drone’ they intend to use making their subsequent detection and arrest that much easier(hahahaha!). It appears that no one in the video has any idea of how aero modellers operate. The majority, who are also members of the national body the BMFA, fly from model club fields and only fly in a very limited area of airspace about the center of this field. We do not traverse cross country from point to point. Thus, it would be a simple exercise to generate a data base of such locations and give each an exclusion zone of say 0.5ml radius. This could be loaded into commercial ‘drone’ data base for avoidance.



Nigel Tomlinson

Can we you please use terminology that makes it clear what you are discussing. “drones” implies you are speaking of multi-rotor aircraft where as “unmanned” aircraft covers all drones and other model aircraft.
I have been a drone enthusiast for many years. I founded the British FPV Racing association and have organised drone racing events all over Europe, all without a single safety issue or injury. This needs to be taken into account along with the BMFA’s exceptional safety record, some exceptions should be in place for those of use who clearly follow the rules as they are now, to ensure future legislation does not stifle or worse, kill, our hoby.



Nigel Tomlinson

@ richard Franks. Drone modellers are exactly the same as you. we are members of the BMFA, we fly responsibly and within the law. or are you referring to those outside the community and the BMFA, like the guy who was arrested and prosecuted for flying a fixed wing model aircraft in the restricted zone around Heathrow airport in Dec 2018.



Julian Fisk

If we can’t even be addressed in a polite and respectful manner, it certainly makes myself worried if our relationship with other air users will be handled in a fair and unbiased manner?



Graham Hill

Thanks for your apology Andy. I was shocked by what you said in the room, because drone operators don’t seem to be getting represented in this hearing. To be labelled negatively and slotted into one of three derogatory categories was completely over the top! You do need to realise that there are large multinational groups of drone fliers who educate and inform each other about policy and regulation. Through membership of these forums, we not only become well informed regarding UK CAA regulations regarding UAVs, but also what’s happening in other parts of the world (USA FCC especially). We all realise that there are – like in any recreational sport – a small minority who do stupid things. At the risk of being called “drone police” there are a large majority of us who will stick our heads above the parapet and call out the idiots. I’m sure that you are aware of the huge number of skilled and responsible drone users out there. It would be much appreciated by the community if you could present that to the hearing as well.




Have you clarified your mistake with the Select Committee?



Mark Turner

Yes on the face of it you tarred everybody with the same brush. Sometimes, under pressure, we do or say things that we later regret. An apology in your case is welcome and refreshing. Thank you.



James Cox

As a responsible drone pilot I was reaching for my strongly worded email to you.
Luckily you apologised in time, and thank you for doing that.



Michael Anthony Osborne England

I am a model aircraft builder and flyer and wish that the” authorities” and ” committees” would recognise the difference deference between model aircraft and “drones”.
Has anyone from the CAA or MoA actually taken part in any model aircraft activities ?!!
I would suggest that they visit the BMFA headquarters .



David White

Pleased there is a recognition of the inappropriateness of the remarks. I am in my 70s and have just renewed my PfCO. Do not fly to make money but to enjoy myself and to do so safely. If too many restrictions are placed on drone flying, people will ignore them. The majority of flyers are sensible and law-abiding. All for registration – at a reasonable price. Registered my drone in the USA and in Canada: easy and fairly priced.Scare stories are very unhelpful. How many drones are flown at 4000 feet – the recent comments from airline pilots. Mine ceilings at 400 feet!



Russ Saunders

I live in the North East of England and every day aircraft fly over my house on the approach to Newcastle Airport at all hours. Tragically there have been major aircrashes over the last 18 months where hundreds of passengers have been killed – blamed on pilot error or faulty computer systems yet I have heard anyone call for a ban on airliners ( although they did ground the suspect aircraft) nor have I heard anyone call the operators, pilots, engineers, or anyone else clueless, careless or criminal. The fact is that no one as far as I’m aware has been seriously injured or killed by a drone and so called near misses rarely substantiated with hard factual evidence. The farce that took place at Gatwick in December just proves this point.
I use a drone for Landscape photography and always fly safely, following the code the flight no longer than it takes to compose and take the required stills or videos. So let’s be honest, factual and reasonable when discussing these issues, not sensationalist, knee jerk, patronising and insulting! There are thousands of model aircraft and drone pilots that fly safely and responsibly so let’s not forget that fact.



Brian Bracher

Thank you for the apology.
The comments here by model flyers are quite interesting. I say this with a close friend who is an avid and long term model aircraft flyer.
How would you separately define model aircraft from what you class as drones?
A drone is a remotely pilot airframe that flies.
They can have anything from 1 to 8 and even more engines / propellers
The reason that it includes model aircraft is because you cannot separate by definition.
I have read here a model flyer demonising anyone who flies a drone (multi-rotor) yet a vey high % of model fliers also own drones. It’s a shame that the air modelling community and the BMFA have not been more welcoming to new drone fliers, apart from selling their membership PL insurance.
Get over it, there are now more people using the airspace so stop sulking and start thinking about how we work together, as the numbers are going to grow.

Oh, and a final thought, Heathrow airport airspace has been closed more times as a result of model aircraft, than multi rotors over the years. it’s just that the model aircraft incursions were not reported by the press.



Paul Wingfield

I would say the drone pilot community who use NATS and the Dronsafe website are ALL responsible pilots. I very much doubt that someone flying over a runway or delivery drugs to a prison will do a flight flight check with you first!

The current rules are far too stringent and will be broken by almost every drone pilot in one way or another. To expect people to ensure a 500ft safety zone for a 250gram quadcopter is truly ridiculous because it would take a drone travelling at 20KPH 27 seconds to travel that far. For the owner of a property, it would be far safer to send up his little drone to check his gutters than it is to climb a ladder and this is not reflected in the rules. Neither is the case where drones have ducted propellers, thereby ensuring safety to people from contact with the props.

If you want people to abide by the rules, make them reasonable so they can be proud to fly in accordance with them.



Martin Grant

This still doesn’t explain to me what is the point of having the register of UAVs. If I want to drop drugs into a prison or cause trouble at an airport I am not going to write my name and address on the vehicle .



Michael barclay

I object to my model aircraft being called drones. They are not. They are scale models and are flown only from my club site.(LAMMAC). Model aircraft fliers have a safety record second to none. No airport has ever been closed due to a sighting of a WW1 model.




People don’t come up with pithy, alliterative statements like that spontaneously; clearly you had thought about it in advance, really meant what you said, and probably are only sorry that your comments were publicized.

Given that you are SUPPOSED to responsibly represent the interests of ALL those involved in aviation, you have no business remaining in the position you hold and should resign.



C.L. Less

It takes real character to apologise and accept a mistake.

By not accepting an apology, the ‘drone community’ just highlight why they will never be taken seriously.


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