UK acts on drone near misses after tests raise collision fears

Even small drones can cause catastrophic accidents to commercial aircraft, tests show

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2017 file photo, a drone flies in Hanworth Park in west London, as a British Airways 747 plane in the background prepares to land at Heathrow Airport. British officials announced plans Saturday, July 22, 2017 to further regulate drone use in a bid to prevent accidents and threats to commercial aviation. (John Stillwell/PA via AP, File)

Owners of flying drones in the UK will have to register their devices with the authorities after a series of near misses involving commercial aircraft.

The scheme is being introduced after tests showed that even a small drone could break a helicopter’s rotors or a bigger one shatter an aircraft windscreen according to a pilots’ group which part-funded the tests.

“Those impacts would have catastrophic consequences,” said its head Brian Strutton.

Forty-eight incidents involving drones or unknown objects were investigated by the UK authorities in the first half of the year. London Gatwick Airport closed briefly earlier this month and several planes were diverted when a drone was spotted in the area.

The authorities have expressed concern over the use of drones to smuggle drugs and mobile phones into UK prisons. As part of the tighter regulations, the government plans to expand the use of geo-fencing, a programming technique that stops drones entering restricted zones such as prisons and airports.

The National reported earlier this month that the UAE would check every imported drone to ensure that it had identification markings, and was fitted with a geo-fencing chip. It followed a number of incidents at Dubai International Airport.

The research found that drones weighing as little as 400g could damage a helicopter windscreen, though airliners were more robust and could withstand a collision with an unmanned device weighing up to 2kg. The registration scheme will apply to drones weighing more than 250g.

The scheme will allow authorities to better track the owners of drones which breach restricted areas. Aviation minister Lord Callanan said: “Like all technology, drones too can be misused.”