The adoption and increase numbers and variety of drones in the market place has grown significantly over the past few years. Whilst early version were seen as toys, the increase in sophistication and clever use of videos and control through video has allowed these flying craft to become a lot more sophisticated and capable of travelling quite far distances.

The technology has been adopted for many types of business cases from checking structures such as bridges and potential adoption to carrying out visual checks for aircraft (being tested) and many other applications including aerial photography. Its expected ubiquitous adoption as a form of parcel delivery method is being assessed by leading companies such as Amazon with tests in the UK in Cambridge. 

There is an important case that the numbers of drones acquired by individuals and the increase potential in numbers, can have many safety issues related to this. In reality drones need to abide by the same rules that effect any aircraft, airliners, jets, helicopters, small private aircraft, microlights, balloons, hang gliders,  paramotors, paragliders and radio controlled aircraft. All of the aircraft mentioned have to abide by the same CAA (Civil Aviation Rules) and anyone flying radio controlled aircraft or drones has to abide by the same rules and restrictions, although distance to how close they can fly to people is lower for the latter two types.

The aviation minister Lord Callanan stated amongst other things that:

“Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones. Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.

“But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones, introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.” 

Alongside a drones register and pilot safety tests, the government is also bringing forward plans to expand the use of ‘geo-fencing’ in the UK, where by GPS based technology is used to prevent drones from entering the airspace of secured zones such as airports or prisons. 

A consideration that so far may have not been looked at is when delivery adoption by drones becomes a reality, there needs to be new air corridors created (as used at higher level by aircraft) that will ensure a good distance between, autonomous drones, buildings, road traffic and people. This without forgetting existing air users such as paramotors, microlight and paragliders to ensure are kept at a safe area from flying clubs dotted around the UK and to ensure cross country flights are not put at jeopardy by random autonomous drones that do not have clear airway corridors they they must abide by.

I am a Paraglider Club Pilot and sometime share the airspace with radio control aircraft (usually model gliders), although they keep a fair distance. In the case of autonomous drones, they must ideally be designed so that they can automatically manoeuvre away from other flying objects they may come across when using the shared airspace.

I was told there was a fatality in the past where a paraglider and drone collided in the UK. I believe it is good that drones are registered and pilots of such aircraft have the correct training as all other air users undertake. The question is: if autonomous drones are used will they be legislated to have Airborne Collision Avoidance Systems (ACAS) - I believe it is the least we can expect to have a safe air space for everyone.