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Drones and other airspace users

Drones and other airspace users

Publication date:

23 October 2015

Last updated:

18 September 2019


Policy and Public Affairs

Drones are looking to become more common, but what are the implications for other airspace users such as commercial aviation? Captain Andy Brown of the British Airline Pilots Association offers a view from the people who will increasingly be sharing the sky with them.

There were 16 recorded near misses between commercial air traffic and drones so far this year (to 9 September 2015) in the UK alone, according to official statistics.

Drones, also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, have been in operation for around 100 years, starting in the two great wars with limited success, and now used successfully by the military for 'dull, dirty and dangerous' missions, perhaps most infamously with the Predator "drone wars" over Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, it is the recent advances in miniaturisation of GPS, stability systems and computers as well as advances in lightweight lithium battery technology that has heralded a revolution of small and medium sized RPAS.

There are a plethora of applications and current uses of small and medium RPAS are border surveillance, agricultural crop monitoring, monitoring of infrastructure such as power facilities and pipelines, commercial photography, aerial mapping and charting, while proposed civil and commercial applications include security awareness, disaster response, news and sporting event coverage, and advertising and parcel delivery by companies such as Google and Amazon.

Note: in preparing this Thinkpiece, the Editor also would like to thank: Edward Walker (Insurance Institute of London) for facilitating contact with the author; and both David Sales FCII, Chartered Insurance Broker (Cooper Gay Insurance) and Elizabeth Holton (aviation insurance subject matter expert for the CII) for the ideas and suggestions.

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This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.