Unified tracking system for all aircraft and drones is planned, says CAA

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A unified traffic management system for all airborne vehicles could be introduced in the UK which would cater to the anticipated explosion in drone use without increasing the risk to other aircraft, according to the policy director of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Speaking at a meeting of MPs and drone manufacturers in Parliament, Tim Johnson said that in the “medium term” anything that flies “should be electronically visible to other things that fly”.

“That will require a number of new policies and technologies to be in place,” Johnson said. “The Government, through the Department for Transport and its aviation strategy, are consulting on something called electronic conspicuity, which is the policy - if implemented - that will make sure that everything that is flying is electronically visible.”

He noted that the technology needed to allow small aircraft such as drones to report their position locally is getting progressively smaller as manufacturing processes improve.

This comes after calls from the aviation industry to include all remotely piloted craft on global flight maps in order to reduce the risk of collision with larger aircraft.

Yesterday, the EU published a set of Europe-wide rules on drone operation that are set to come into effect next July.

With the UK poised to leave the EU before that date, Johnson was asked whether the rules will be transposed across the channel.

He said that the CAA was working on the basis that those rules would be implemented into UK law despite Brexit and is trying to maintain the anticipated July 2020 date for their enforcement.

SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes noted his concern that China was the largest manufacturer of drones and one of the UK’s “largest economic and political structure opponents”.

He said the US Department of Homeland Security recently claimed that Chinese-made drones were revealed to be sending sensitive flight data back to their manufacturers.

Altitude Angel CEO Richard Parker said that it should not matter where drones are manufactured, as all imports will still be bound by UK regulations.

Lastly, Johnson was asked why the current proposal to introduce a £16.50 annual fee for drone users to enrol their device on a national database was limited to drones weighing over 250g.

He responded that the decision had been made because the risks associated with drones lighter than 250g were “incredibly small”.

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