Pilots have warned of more near misses involving drones and aircraft – or even a collision – this year.
The alert from the British Airline Pilots Association came as figures show reports of “close calls” more than doubled last year over 2015.
The union has voiced concern that drones – one of the most sought-after gifts at Christmas – could lead to a serious incident if users do not follow the rules.
There were a total of 69 reported incidents of drone near-misses with aircraft last year, up from 29 in 2015 and none just four years ago.
Hobbyists need to ensure they are educated in the rules of where and how to fly drones and take full responsibility for doing so.
Balpa flight safety specialist Steve Landells said: “Drones can be great fun and we’re not surprised at their popularity over Christmas as people received them as presents.
“However, after a significant increase in near-misses last year it seems not everyone who is flying them either know or care about the rules that are in place for good reason.
“That’s why we’re urging anyone who has a drone to take a look at the Civil Aviation Authority’s ‘drone code’ and be proactive in educating themselves on the rules.”
He added: “While we take no issue with people who fly their drones in a safe and sensible manner, some people who fly them near airports or densely populated areas are behaving dangerously.
“Measures should be put in place that will allow the police to identify and locate anyone who flies a drone in an irresponsible way.
“Owing to the huge numbers of drones being sold, more technological solutions will undoubtedly be required to address this problem and should be mandated.
“These should include, amongst other things, geofencing as standard and a system whereby the drone transmits enough data for the police to locate the operator when it is flown in a dangerous manner.
“If the user has endangered an aircraft, we would like to see the culprit prosecuted; endangering an aircraft has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.”
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said: “Anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly and observe all relevant rules and regulations.
“The rules for flying drones are designed to keep all airspace users safe.
“It is totally unacceptable to fly drones close to airports and other aircraft and anyone flouting the rules can face severe penalties including five years in prison.
“The CAA’s ‘Dronecode’ provides advice on how to fly your drone safely and responsibly.
“You must follow the rules at all times and can find more information at: dronesafe.uk
“Remember that you should never fly your drone above 400ft, should always keep it in your line of sight, and stay well away from airports and other aircraft.”
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