Operators of remotely operated aircraft that put passenger jets at risk should be jailed, the British public believes, according to a survey by the British Airline Pilots’ Association.
The survey of 2,036 adult individuals also revealed that two out of five believed that only properly trained operators should be allowed to fly drones over densely populated areas.
The survey, compiled on behalf of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), was presented at a drone safety conference involving pilots, police and operators of remotely piloted aircraft systems.
"Pilots and the public want the UK to be a 'safe drone zone' and these polling results show that the public backs stricter laws on training for drone pilots and punishment for endangering aircraft,” said Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan.
"The UK can lead the way on safely introducing small drones and set the standard for the passenger aircraft of the future.”
The study was prompted by the recent proliferation of freely available drone technology, which has spurred concerns about public safety. In particular, an incident in July 2014 ignited the debate after a simple remotely operated quadcopter was flown to within a distance of just six metres of a passenger jet landing at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Two months before the Heathrow incident, the pilot of an ATR 72 aircraft reported seeing a helicopter drone only 24 metres away as he approached Southend airport at a height of 450 metres.
"Pilots are also calling for the British public to be informed, involved and consulted before companies fly large, remotely-piloted aircraft over their homes and alongside their passenger planes," McAuslan added.
According to the survey’s results, 52 per cent of respondents thought that jail would be the most appropriate level of punishment for someone putting lives at risk by flying too close to a passenger aircraft, while 24 per cent suggested a fine would suffice.
40 per cent of those who took part in the survey believed only operators with the same level of training as pilots should be allowed to fly over urban areas, while 31 per cent said no drones should be flown over such areas whatsoever.