Balpa says large drones should only be flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training

Pilots demand tough rules on drones after near miss

British pilots are demanding tougher rules for the use of drones as an official report revealed that a quadcopter came close to colliding with a passenger plane.

A recently released report by the UK Airprox Board - which deals with aviation near misses - suggested that the drone had been "deliberately" flown close to the aircraft, coming within 25m of the AT72 as it came in to land at Southend airport on 30 May 2014.

The airline pilots' association Balpa called for tougher rules on the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) as it gave evidence before a House of Lords committee today, saying drones that share airspace with passenger and freight airliners should meet the same safety standards as piloted aircraft.

Balpa says this should include only being flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training and that a full public consultation must be carried out before the Government sets rules on how larger commercial RPAS, for example carrying cargo, will operate over the UK's villages, towns and cities.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: "The UK should become a 'safe drone zone' so we can make the most of the major business and leisure opportunities offered by remotely piloted aircraft, while protecting passengers, pilots and residents.

"The technology is developing quickly and we could see remote aircraft the same size as a Boeing 737 being operated commercially in our skies within 10 years."

He went on: "Large unmanned aircraft, when they come, should be as safe as manned aircraft and the British public should be fully consulted before companies fly large, remotely-piloted aircraft over their homes alongside passenger planes."

It is are also calling for tougher security measures at ground level to protect against control of these aircraft being seized by force or by hacking into their computer systems.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Civilian RPAS are closely regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority and are treated in the same manner as equivalent manned aircraft.

"Robust safety measures are currently in place to ensure that large RPAS are segregated from other airspace users. We will not allow the integration of RPAS with other air traffic until RPAS can demonstrate that this can be done safely.

"The UK is at the forefront of efforts to develop Europe-wide regulations on unmanned aircraft to become a global leader in this field. We are currently looking at how we can further engage with the public on this issue."

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) prohibits the flying of drones over or within 150m of built-up areas.

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