Drone flights ‘should be integrated into pilots’ maps’

Drones should be properly integrated into traditional aviation’s mapping systems to avoid potentially deadly collisions, a standards expert said.

A total of 117 near-miss reports have been filed, data up to late last year showed, although none have involved fatalities.

A digital world map could be created so pilots can clearly see where other craft are, James Dunthorne told a conference in Belfast.

The standards director at the trade association for remotely piloted aircraft said the future was robotic.

He said: “We have a good framework of regulations, we just need now aerodromes to be able to integrate drones into those areas of airspace effectively.

“If you have only got disparate systems how do we integrate air taxis, how do we integrate drones, how does a helicopter pilot know where a drone is when it is flying around?

“These are the things where we need a single map of the world in terms of air transportation so that any particular aircraft can see any other particular aircraft.”

He addressed a conference on drones at the Innovation Factory in West Belfast.

Before Christmas, Gatwick airport ground to a halt after reports of drone sightings.

The runway at the UK’s second busiest airport was closed for 33 hours, causing cancellation or delays to around 1,000 flights.

Mr Dunthorne added: “What we saw at Gatwick happen was a huge amount of confusion, a lack of preparedness, there was also not the right technology installed to be able to combat these machines.

“Since that has happened this has raised awareness around aerodromes around the country and they have changed the way they are doing things.”

He said airport managers had since created emergency action plans.

Managers at Heathrow shut down the airport for just over an hour rather than two days.

Mr Dunthorne said: “It was clear that once they realised there was not a threat they were back up and running again.”

He added: “You can have as many laws and regulations out there as you want but criminals will always do criminal behaviours.

“You can outlaw murder but there will always be people out there who commit murder.

“Regulations will only go so far.”

He said they needed to improve.

“There was clearly a risk from mid-air collisions from drones being flown in those areas when in the past it had been relied on the pilot to avoid those situations from happening.

“Clearly with the number of near-misses that has not been sufficient.

“It is clear that eyes are not good enough for avoiding collisions, every year we see countless mid-air collisions between manned aviation.

“I know people personally who have died through mid-air collision through manned aviation so people’s eyes are not good enough to be able to avoid collisions so what we need is a digital solution to this.”