A passenger jet came only six metres away from colliding with a drone at Heathrow Airport, prompting the authorities to remind owners that they could face jail for flying close to aircraft. The near miss was one of six such incidents recorded between May 2014 and May 2015 in the UK, prompting fears over public safety.
Drone ownership has mushroomed in recent years as the technology has improved, most notably because HD cameras are now routinely fitted to such devices. Drone owners don’t require a licence (for non-commercial activity, at least) nor any training before they are allowed to fly the devices, doubtless leaving some owners ignorant of the laws and guidance concerning the use of unmanned aircraft.
In a bid to avoid a repeat of the near misses, the Civil Aviation Authority has issued a new “Dronecode”. The code states that owners must not fly their devices near airports, helicopters or other aircraft, and that drones remain in sight of the pilot at all times and are never flown above 400 feet. Drones fitted with cameras must not be flown within 50 metres of buildings or people, or close to “congested areas or large gatherings” such as sports stadiums.
The CAA is warning owners could face prosecution if they flout the rules. Recklessly endangering an aircraft is a criminal offence that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, a CAA spokesperson told the BBC.
Earlier this year, the House of Lords EU Committee called for the creation of a register of drone owners. The committee also called for greater use of so-called geofencing, where devices fitted with GPS technology are prohibited from flying in certain areas, such as airports.