Hundreds of thousands of air passengers face Christmas travel chaos at one of the U.K.’s busiest airports, one expert says increased drone use in Canada could bring similar misery here.
The runway at London’s Gatwick Airport has been closed since Wednesday after two drones were spotted in its airspace, believed to have been flown deliberately near the flight path to cause disruption.
Pilots have reported numerous near-misses with drones in recent years in the skies over Canada and aviation authorities have warned there is a growing risk that a midair collision could cause a major disaster.
Sterling Cripps runs Canadian Unmanned in Medicine Hat, Alta., where he trains commercial and government users on how to legally and safely operate drones.
He estimated aircraft were involved in around 500 near-misses involving drones this year.
“If you’re a pilot and you happen to see an object fly by and you can identify it as a drone, it’s deadly close,” Cripps, who is also a commercial pilot, told CTVNews.ca. “This is a real danger for us.”
Canada has tougher restrictions than Britain around drone flights near airports, with a 5.6-kilometre exclusion zone here, compared to one kilometre in England. Breaking Canada’s drone laws and putting an aircraft at risk carries a $25,000 fine or jail time.
People flying illegally in Canada are usually young adolescent males flying for fun, Cripps said.
“It can be very difficult to identify where the drone is coming from,” he said.
“On behalf of everyone at Gatwick I would like to repeat how sorry we are for the inconvenience this criminal behaviour has caused passengers..." Read the full statement from our CEO, Stewart Wingate. https://t.co/M47tA37itJ pic.twitter.com/FB5nHOlHe5— Gatwick Airport LGW (@Gatwick_Airport) December 20, 2018
Proposed updates to the laws around larger drones in Canada are due to come into force in January. Changes include requirements for a basic or advanced pilot permit and registering the machine with a Transport Canada identification number.
A breach of the safety rules, which includes flying above 90 metres and at least 30 metres from vehicles and people, means a possible $3,000 fine.
Cripps said Transport Canada could do even more to advertise rules and regulations around drone use.
“There’s no excuse for ignorance anymore,” he said.
“Until someone is killed or a plane is brought down, I don’t know if people will become aware.”
In October a drone pilot was fined and grounded for three years after he flew his device too close to incoming aircraft at Yellowknife airport.
And in August a Westjet flight came close to disaster after a drone was spotted by a pilot off the plane’s left wing, 4,000 feet over Edmonton.
This summer, firefighters battling wildfires in B.C. warned drone operators to keep their craft out of the air when fire crews are working, after an unauthorized drone flight forced the grounding of a helicopter.
Civilian drones have grown popular as their price has fallen and have been a popular Christmas gift in recent years.
Technological improvement has meant components are smaller, faster and cheaper than ever.
Police have reminded new drone owners about their responsibilities after a drone was found on the roof of a house in Quebec last July with dead batteries.
Aviation analyst Phyl Durdey told CTV News Channel drones pose a very serious threat.
“When an aircraft is on approach they’re doing about 150 miles per hour (about 240 km/h) and if you have an impact with an object that is two or three kilos in weight that can go through the windshield and hurt the pilots and significantly damage the aircraft,” Durdey said.
He suggested scrambling the signal to bring down the Gatwick drones.
“Some drones can be remotely operated from three kilometres away and some can be pre-programmed with GPS co-ordinates so you don’t even need an operator on the ground,” Durdey said.
“It very hard to protect. The rules are tight, the fines are tight, the jail time is there, so that’s all they can do right now.”
Rules for flying recreational drones in Canada
Fly your drone:
• at least 5.6 km away from aerodromes (any airport, seaplane base or area where aircraft take off and land)
• below 90 m above the ground
• within 500 m of the operator
• within your sight at all times
• at least 30 m away from vehicles, vessels and the public (at least 76 m if your drone weighs over 1 kg and up to 35 kg)
• at least 1.9 km away from heliports
• outside of controlled or restricted airspace
• at least 9 km away from a natural hazard or disaster area
• away from areas where its use could interfere with police or first responders
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