As the UK’s airspace becomes increasingly crowded and more commercial providers enter the market, it is a growing challenge for authorities to ensure safety and deliver industry-appropriate regulations.
As the sector braces for proposed changes in drone law, Commercial Drone Professional spoke to Jonathan Nicholson from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the challenges it faces and how it looks to serve its purpose while also welcoming commercial and consumer pilots to the airspace.
How will the incoming changes impact the CAA?
We need to make sure people are aware, primarily of the ones that will come into effect around protecting airfields and looking at making legal limits, those are the ones we are looking at bringing immediate changes to the law. Any other kinds of amendments will take longer to bring in.
From a regulation point of view, it must be quite difficult to strike a balance between having a standard that invites new pilots to join the industry but is also a high enough standard that ensures safety?
What we do is pro-education, setting a minimum standard if you, intended for the hobbyists. We need that level of regulation and education involved so that those users know what they should be doing, and then on the opposite side, the rest of the air space users get suitable protections from that.
Then there’s also the commercial users. We would absolutely expect all the commercial users to know all the rules and regulations about what’s going on because they should have learnt all of that as part of their training to get their authorisation, so there’s two very different audiences there.
Certainly for the commercial audience, obviously the rules are there in place because we have ones that are rules for everybody but there’s nothing to stop commercial users applying for extensions and obviously getting the commercial approval itself enables you to potentially do something that a consumer user couldn’t do anyway.
What are the challenges that the CAA is facing?
We absolutely want drones to be a success. We set out to help facilitate drones and let them do all of the amazing things that they can do, and we’re nowhere near reaching the end of that potential yet, but it has to be done safely.
What we don’t want to happen is for all the great things that drones can do, now and in the future, to be affected by people misusing drones now. We need people to follow the rules, follow the regulations, particularly for non-commercial users who need to follow the drone code. And commercial users need to set an example if you like, as ambassadors, to help explain what they can do.
How great do you think the danger is that there are people out there who aren’t setting a great example?
We know that there are people out there. We’re trying to help the commercial users to do everything properly because we know there are people out there that aren’t doing that. We know there are people out there doing commercial work that haven’t undertaken training, they don’t have the approvals in place, that affects the business of the people who have done it properly and potentially it creates an unsafe situation if that doesn’t help the drone industry shape the future.
We’re putting a lot of effort and a lot of money into the education and that will continue for the foreseeable future. The other aspect is the people who know there are rules that actively break them and again we know it happens.
The police are the enforcement agencies for any kind of illegal drone use as they would be for any illegal activity in the UK and we work closely with them and there’s an element of education for those people.
From the CAA’s perspective it must be difficult to keep all of that under wraps. Earlier this year about a new drone manager, does that represent that CAA’s recognition of the growth of the industry?
Yes, we have got quite a large drone section now, some based within policy, people that look after the commercial operators, an area we put a lot of time and effort into, especially compared to a couple of years ago.
The amount of drone work we do within the organisations is significant now. We put a lot into the education work as well funding. It’s definitely an area that we realise is a growth area for aviation we class it as another area of UK civil aviation and we give a significant amount to resources to it, again all about making sure drones can be safe in the UK.