Drone users warned to fly safe after plane near miss

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

Drone users have been warned to stick to the rules for flying unmanned aircraft or face the consequences of breaking the law by the U.K's aviation regulator.

The British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a "Dronecode" of conduct on Wednesday that drone users must follow, or face "prosecution and a possible jail term or fine."

A multirotor quadcopter drone used for aerial photography flies near a wind turbine.
Getty Images

The CAA's "Dronecode" says drone flyers must:

  • Keep their drone within sight and no more than 400 feet above ground
  • Keep their drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields
  • Use their "common sense and fly safely"

In addition, drones fitted with cameras must not be flown:

  • Within 50 meters (164 feet) of people, vehicles or buildings
  • Within 150 meters (492 feet) of congested areas or large gatherings, such as concerts and sports events

"Drones can be fantastic tools and we're sure to see more and more flying in U.K. skies in the coming years," said Phil Binks, a drone expert at air traffic control company, NATS, in the press release. "But with that growth comes the need to remind people of their obligations as airspace users and that safety always has to be the top priority."

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The move by the CAA is a response to several near-misses between drones and aircraft.

One of the most significant incident occurred in June 2014, when a drone reportedly flew as close as 20 feet away from an Airbus A320 as the plane was trying to land at London's Heathrow airport. The incident was assessed as a "Category A" incident, meaning there was a serious risk of collision, the CAA told CNBC by email.

More recently, another Airbus A320 pilot reported a black object, believed to be a drone, tracking toward his aircraft in March this year at 1,800 feet. The drone operator could not be tracked.

The CAA prosecuted an individual in April last year for flying an unmanned aircraft through restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine base—the first prosecution of this kind in the world, according to the regulator.

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"Drone users must understand that when taking to the skies they are entering one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world," said Tim Johnson, director of policy at CAA, in the press release.

"They must be aware of the rules and regulations for flying drones that are designed to keep all air users safe," he later added.

The CAA's press release also noted that manufacturers had started to program drones with "geo-fencing," which can be used to stop unmanned vehicles from flying above a certain height or into restricted areas, such as airport control zones.

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