One evening last summer, on the approach path to Gatwick Airport, a commercial jet narrowly avoided a mid-air collision with a drone. Arrivals were suspended immediately, and the surrounding skies began to fill with inbound aircraft. The disruption to Gatwick’s schedule lasted long into the evening, and thousands of passengers were affected. However, had a collision occurred, the consequences would surely have been worse.
This incident shone a light on the danger drones can pose to manned aircraft and how safety should be at the forefront of every drone flight. As Christmas quickly approaches, many will be asking for a drone or UAV this holiday season. If you're thinking of getting a drone this year, here's everything you need to know before take-off.
Stay at least 50m from people and property
Third parties should never be put at risk by your flight. Before flying, ask yourself how you will maintain this distance. Is the site you have chosen big enough? Can you take-off and land safely? Where will you manoeuvre the drone in the event of an emergency?
Stay away from built-up areas and crowds
You are not permitted to fly over or within 150m of towns, cities or any area where there is a concentration of people or buildings. The increased presence of people in these areas raises the risk factor significantly. A drone falling from height can cause significant harm, even if it only weighs a few hundred grams.
Keep eyes on your drone at all times
Losing sight of your drone is the equivalent of not looking at the road when you are driving. As with driving, it is important that you can anticipate and avoid hazards. To achieve this you must maintain sight of your drone and any changes that develop on its flight path. Devices such as binoculars are not permitted, as these narrow your awareness of the drone’s surroundings.
Stay below 400 ft (120m)
There are a number of reasons for this restriction. Firstly, staying below this ceiling will reduce the likelihood of encountering manned aircraft. Secondly, the wind speed at altitude is often greater than at ground level. So the higher your drone, the harder it will be to judge the effect the wind will have on it. And lastly, exceeding this altitude will reduce your ability to maintain sight of the aircraft.
Stay away from airports
There are often high numbers of manned aircraft manoeuvring in the airspace above and around an airport. As demonstrated by the incident above, flying a drone in this airspace is likely to be disruptive and dangerous. If you endanger a manned aircraft you may go to prison for up to 5 years.
Read the manufacturer’s instructions
Malfunctions are often caused by poor maintenance, and learning as much as you can about your drone will help you to keep it in the air. How well do you look after the batteries? How often do you check the condition of the propellers? What are your pre-flight procedures?
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