Air traffic control body GATCO unveils a six-point safety recommendation to protect travelling public.

GATCO – the UK Guild for Air Traffic Control Officers – is calling for six safety steps to be implemented to reduce the risks to the travelling public from drones, including introducing mandatory geo-fencing.

The Guild reports that in 2018 there were 105 airproxes involving drones investigated by the UK Airprox Board, with 75 resulting in assessments recording a ‘serious risk existing’ or that safety ‘may have been compromised’. Research by the Department for Transport, the Military Aviation Authority and the British Airline Pilots’ Association has shown that significant damage can be caused to an aircraft in a drone collision.


While the UK government has introduced some regulation with the introduction of new flight restriction zones around licensed aerodromes, which will become effective next month (March 13), GATCO has described the approach as ‘piecemeal’ as it places no emphasis on stopping drones from flying into areas where they can pose a risk to the flying public.

The organisation has added that the measures introduced so far rely on individuals following rules and/or being competent enough to operate their drones within those rules. GATCO is calling for the government to implement mandatory geo-fencing immediately, which will prevent drones from flying into areas where they could be a danger to passenger and private aircraft.

The six safety recommendations that GATCO is calling on the government to enact are:

1. Mandatory geo-fencing without delay 

Geo-fencing must be made mandatory to prevent drones from flying into areas where they could be a danger to aircraft.

2. Fast track research and trials into electronic conspicuity 

Air traffic controllers and flight information service officers need to be able to see drones on their equipment – this will be mandatory if drones are to be integrated into non-segregated controlled airspace in the future. The drone industry has so far developed far more quickly than regulations to control them. Fast-tracking electronic conspicuity research and trials provide an opportunity to catch up in this area.

3. Clarity on rules on exclusion zones for helipads 

The government’s recent decision to increase the ‘drone exclusion zone’ around licensed aerodromes is unclear on rules around helipads. Drone collision research tests found helicopters to be particularly vulnerable

4. Urgent consideration of introducing restriction zones around unlicensed aerodromes 

The government’s latest regulations do not take into account unlicensed aerodromes. This leaves many smaller general aviation aircraft exposed to the dangers of drones.

5. Drone registration and tests for individuals brought forward from November 2019 

GATCO believes that the sooner these regulations can be enacted, the safer the skies can be.

6. Further research on the effect of drone strikes 

More research is necessary to fully understand the effect a collision with a drone would have on an aircraft and its safety implications.

Public safety must come first

GATCO added that it fully supported the development of the drone industry and recognised the benefits that it could bring both economically and socially. The organisation added that the integration of drones into uncontrolled and subsequently controlled airspace must be carried out while putting the safety of the public first – before any economic considerations. The organisation added that the UK government seemed reluctant to act in advance of European-wide regulation, even when some other European countries had already acted.

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