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UK calls for realistic approach to UAV integration

The UK government is continuing to push the nation ahead in unmanned air vehicle operations, as it calls for a more realistic approach to the issue of airspace integration.

As the UK works towards permitting beyond line of sight UAV operations by 2020, the UAV lead at the Department for Transport (DfT) has urged more realism in tackling regulatory and safety concerns, so that rules are implemented correctly.

“This is a disruptive technology changing the way we think about aviation, but we have to be realistic about safety and security,” Paul Cremin, head of UK aviation operational safety and emerging technologies at the DfT, told the AUVSI Europe conference in Brussels on 22 March. “The UK has made it clear we want to achieve beyond line of sight operations at all altitudes by 2020, but regulations can’t just happen on paper.”

Cremin says there is a need to make sure the regulations work at European and ICAO levels as well, “so that what comes out is robust”.

“Industry – please don’t wait for the regulators to sort this out for you,” he urges, suggesting that the latter group may not always be ahead on this issue, and that technology could help shape how they are used.

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The DfT has been carrying out a public dialogue since December 2015, as one of the ways in which the UK government is trying to accelerate acceptance and integration of UAV operations. This will help the government determine the challenges it faces with the perception of UAVs, that it can then feed back into the regulations.

Initial results have revealed that the public has more faith in state-controlled use of UAVs, such as those by the military, because it is assumed that the training they have to undergo will ensure that operations are safer. In addition, the public would assume that these operations are going to carry on regardless, so passing judgement would not be beneficial.

“The public also identified that most commercial users were responsible because of their commercial interests,” Cremin says.

The concern, instead, is in the hobbyist domain, with the anonymity of users being a constant concern.

The public expects a number of measures to be enforced to stop users of UAVs operating them unsafely, including registration, geo-fencing, age restrictions on use, mandatory insurance and licencing of retailers.

Cremin cites the dialogue as important because unmanned systems are not only operated by aviation experts, but the general public, “yet we’re still trying to enforce aviation regulations on them”.

A full report on the dialogue will be issued in April, followed by a public consultation in June, which will eventually inform a UK government strategy on permitting operations later this decade.

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