Are the worldwide drone standards enough?

28th November 2018
Alex Lynn

As Christmas approaches, thousands of people across the UK will purchase a drone amid a technological phenomenon with an endless range of uses and purposes. In 2017, the CAA estimated that 1.5 million drones were bought during the Christmas period. Drones are being used to film dramatic landscapes, identify crime suspects and fly medicines to remote locations, and their use is expected to increase. 

Yet, most of this growth in drone use will be seen amongst industry, rather than consumers. Alan Perrin, who runs Cambridge UAV Academy, noted: “We’ve noticed a paradigm shift in terms of who we are training: companies are now investing in up-skilling staff to ensure they have in-house drone capability for deploying wherever and whenever needed. Beforehand, we were training more hobbyists and sole operators who wanted to fly drones commercially.”

It is illegal to fly a drone for commercial purposes unless The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted the user permission in the form of a PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations). Cambridge UAV Academy runs courses involving two days of classroom training followed by a practical flight assessment held at its airfield. Those who pass can subsequently obtain their PfCO. (NB This permission is often incorrectly referred to as a ‘license’.) As yet, nobody has been jailed in the UK for unsafe flying of a drone, yet sentences could reach up to five years in prison. Drones are being confiscated and fines of up to £5,000 can be levied.

Perrin, added: “We welcome the ISO standards, but far more education is still needed. Although the CAA has its own well thought-out regulations and the ‘Drone Safe’ initiative, our recent undercover research confirms that worryingly misleading advice is still being given to purchasers of drones on the high street, with little or no mention of legal requirements or even common safety advice about operating a drone. A disruptive technology that is readily available encourages people to use it immediately, without thinking of the consequences.”

The new ISO guidelines are heavily focused on air safety, which is understandably at the forefront of public attention, given recent media coverage of a near-miss between a drone and a police helicopter on-call. Concerns over flying in precarious and sensitive locations, such as densely populated public areas, are addressed via the new standards, which promote and reinforce compliance regarding no-fly zones, separation distance and local regulations.

They also address operational requirements of the more recognised and prevalent drones, including protocols on safety, security and overall ‘etiquette’ for their use. The new standards will therefore shape regulation and legislation going forward.

Their effectiveness will be further strengthened by the rapid development of geo-fencing and of counter-drone technology, providing frontline protection against ‘rogue’ drone use. Perrin will be a speaker at the International Security Expo on the 29th November at Olympia, London, where he will present how to use drones legally, and discuss the need for qualifications.

Such is the potential for safe drone flying that a PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ 2018 report on the market estimates £42bn will be added to the UK economy in the next 12 years by drones, involving sectors that span wholesale, retail, education, defence and health. The public sector alone is set to use more than 76,000 drones by 2030.

Elaine Whyte, UK Drones Leader at PWC, stated: “I envisage that the advantages of drone technology will be well established within the decade - not only for business purposes, but also for helping to protect our society, for example, through being used by the emergency services. There is a need for current UK drone regulation to advance.”

High quality training will therefore be a crucial factor in achieving such exciting possibilities.

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