A mystery drone nearly collided with a commercial passenger jet at Heathrow yesterday. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gave the incident an “A” rating, the BBC says, which means there was a “serious risk of collision” and is the highest applicable level.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) remains unidentified. The Airbus A320 aircraft was carrying 180 people when it nearly crashed into the device , which didn’t appear on air traffic control’s radar. To throw even more uncertainty on the event, the drone disappeared afterwards and its controller has eluded investigators.
Anyone in the UK flying a UAV risk more than £500,000 in fines, according to the CAA and the Independent Commisioner’s Office, which enforces the Data Protection Act (DPA). The most serious fine that can be imposed for a serious breach of the DPA is £500,000 (AU$940,000); the most a magistrates court can lay down for a serious breach of the CAA’s unmanned aircraft regulations is £2,500 (AU$4700). Since most drones carry cameras, it’s possible the two could happen together. Recording footage using a drone could result in serious offences under the ICO’s strict surveillance rules. (Here are the CAA’s guidelines on using small UAVs.)
Drones are gaining popularity. This Christmas it’s expected they will be on peoples’ wish lists and near accidents such as the one on Sunday might increase as a result. Sales have gone up rapidly:the BBC notes UK sales are running at a rate of between 1,000 and 2,000 every month.They’re also cheap.Myfirstdrone.com lists some devices for around £30.
Heathrow’s incident isn’t the first to be recorded in British airspace. In May, a pilot of a smaller ATR 72 plane reported seeing a helicopter drone just 80 feet away as he came into Southend Airport.There have been two convictions in the UK so far. The first concerned an occurrence last year, explains the CAA, when a UAV was recovered from water near a submarine testing facility. The second came about when a man pleaded guilty to two charges of operating a drone over the Alton Towers theme park.
A spokesperson for the CAA sells Business Insider:
“People using unmanned aircraft for fun have to understand that they must be flown in a sensible and safe manner. Even small, relatively lightweight devices can damage property, or cause injuries. There are a number of proportionate regulations in place to protect members of the public. So while we don’t want to obstruct the great recreational and commercial opportunities unmanned aircraft offer, safety has to be the absolute priority when they are used. We just need people to take responsibility and ‘think safety’ before launching their device into the air.”
And the ICO explains:
“The ICO has a range of enforcement options available for breaches of the Data Protection Act including undertakings, enforcement notices and civil monetary penalties. The maximum CMP we can issue is £500,000 and the breach has to be proven to have cause substantial damage or distress. The level of the penalty is determined on the factors of the incident.”
Right now, there’s an enquiry covering the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft in the EU. A committee in the House of Lords is discussing better regulations for UAVs to improve safety.
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