UAV and light aircraft sharing airspace has led to concerns over risk on the one hand and innovation on the other. Every month in the UK new drone pilots are emerging to enter the commercial world from the growing number of unmanned aviation training centres.
UAV (unmanned aviation vehicles) or RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft systems) now fly in their thousands all over the UK. As long as they abide by the rules laid down by the CAA then all this activity will be below 400′ AGL (at ground level). Rogue drone pilots who contravene the regulations can expect to be prosecuted for any infringements.
Who are the drone pilots?
The pilot flying the next drone you see could be a current commercial airline pilot, an ex-military UAV pilot, a PPL holder, or someone who has never seen the inside of a cockpit. It could just as easily be a photographer or a drone hobbyist who has undertaken the necessary training to obtain the qualification that allows them to operate commercially.
The fact is that all kinds of people are attracted to this side of aviation. The costs involved make it much more affordable and this is borne out by rapid increase in the number of PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operation. Formerly known as PfAW – Permission for Aerial Work) issued by the CAA.
Are Drones Safe?
When drones first appeared many in the aviation world were wary and suspicious. Some of them remain unconvinced that this new area of aviation will bring any benefits. This attitude isn’t helped by sensational stories in the press about airspace infringements and drones being used for illegal activities.
However, criminals and the irresponsible will always find uses for new technology. We haven’t abandoned mobile phones because some find them useful for setting off bombs.
The advantages and benefits of UAV are growing in number. What began as a way of producing aerial imagery and videos has grown into many branches of specialisation. Drone pilots of today who specialise in one or more fields of UAV expertise can look forward to years of productive employment.
Drone Pilot Training
The training required before a candidate can apply for a flight assessment includes many aspects that would be familiar to any private pilot.
SUA (Small Unmanned Aircraft) are still aircraft even if they are small and unmanned. They are subject to the same forces that act upon any other aircraft and they remain airborne thanks to the same principles of flight.
Drone pilots need to develop an appreciation of many of the same ground school subjects that form part of the PPL and LAPL courses. They will be familiar with aeronautical charts and the basics of Air Law. They will also have learned about human factors and the importance of situational awareness.
Drone pilots often operate in pairs. One will concentrate on flying the aircraft while the other acts as a spotter looking out for aerial hazards or anything (or anyone) on the ground that might interfere with the safe operation of the aircraft.
UAV and Light Aircraft Sharing Airspace: The Future
As time passes the research and development into separation and avoidance intelligence software will continue to evolve. Both UAV and light aircraft are here to stay and with the emergence of viable UAM (Urban Air Mobility) vehicles the likelihood is that the lower airspace will become more crowded than ever in the decades to come, so it will be necessary for developers of all aircraft types, manned and unmanned, recreational and professional, to ensure that they take all other airspace users into account. We will be sharing the skies like never before in the years ahead.