Drones are the New Geese at the Airports

By Rita Sinha

A look at the drone industry – and its regulations – in the Netherlands The original English word “Drone, meaning a male bee, has undergone a major transformation in terminology as well as application in recent times. It can be a flying robot to an enthusiastic hobbyist, a war missile to a marshal, or a dreaded flying bird to an aeroplane pilot. These drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, RPAS, come in different sizes and shapes (different number of wings or legs) and can be the good, the bad or the ugly depending on their applications.

When an aeroplane collides with a soft feathery bird, the impact is capable of inflicting considerable damage to aeroplanes and cause fatal accidents. Advisory and guidelines are issued to pilots on how to avoid birds when flying. Also habitat management measures ensure airports are less attractive to birds. However, as regards to drones the regulatory framework under which they fly differ across the world and a number of key safeguards are not coherent and implemented properly. Aviation authorities worldwide have had a major wake-up call owing to a number of drone sightings close to airports and near misses of collisions with aeroplanes. With the ever increasing commercial uses of drones the risk is even higher. Nowadays drones are not just flown by enthusiastic techies trying their hand at new gadgets but these have wide commercial uses ranging from taking spectacular aerial or deep ocean photographs to getting perfect shots for films, applications in various sciences, and even battling forest fires etc. The recent film ‘Eye in the Sky’ , is yet another typical scenario showing how our lives can change with the use of spy drones. But any advance in technology comes with its own particular merits and drawbacks.

Since last year a lot of technical measures are being put in place worldwide recognizing these dangers posed by drones. The European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA published their Technical Opinion providing new proposals and standards for low risk operations of all unmanned aircrafts covering safety, security, privacy, data protection, insurance and liability. The Drone operators are to keep the flying drones within sight at all times, plan flights ahead, fly them below 150 metres above ground and foremost avoid flying close to airports and helipads. Fifty US airports are about to test out a new partnership with drone operators, sharing flight information as part of a plan under Federal Aviation Administration regulations. In The Netherlands the Regional Governing Body, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport (ILT)) has even laid down specific regulations for commercial and non-commercial drones which can be found on their website . Under this, a drone operator must have a (drone) pilot license from an ILT tested RPAS ground school. By 2017, new rules will be developed, or existing ones will be further amended. The greater the risk the higher the regulations. This is necessary in order to ensure that there is a flexible environment for this promising industry to grow without compromising the safety standards.