The CAA protests…
Mark Dale claims there is no proof an airprox incident with a drone has ever happened (‘A tax on aeromodellers’, July ‘Airmail’). If we need radar-derived evidence of the presence of a drone then he is technically right; their small radar cross-section means that they don’t generally show on radar recordings and so there is no ‘proof’. Does that mean they didn’t happen? No, it doesn’t, we simply do not have the empirical evidence.
It is certainly not ‘patently obvious’ that a huge proportion of drone airprox incidents never happened. We at the UK Airprox Board operate within a reporting system wherein our fundamental assumption is that a pilot reports what he or she saw, rather than making it up. In many reports the pilots provide a full physical description of the drone, in others the description is more vague and so we attribute the incident to an unknown object. But if a pilot reports that he saw a quadcopter drone fly past his aircraft then we have to assume that that’s what he saw. Does Mr Dale think they’re making it up for some unknown reason?
Rather than adopt a highly combative manner, perhaps Mr Dale might think to engage constructively to the benefit of all aviation stakeholders. ARPAS-UK, with which the UK Airprox Board has good relations, recognises that the best way of educating all airspace users is through constructive engagement. The careful and safety-conscious use of drones by commercial drone operators and the majority of others is being compromised by a few who either do not know any better or are deliberately flouting regulations. Drone airprox incidents are happening; we might have a constructive debate about how many, but the fact remains that since 2014 there has been a steady increase in reporting, and in circumstances where drones should not be present. That is the message that needs to be acknowledged. Throwing rocks at those who are simply collating such reports in the interests of identifying any safety lessons is entirely unedifying and rather narrow-minded.
Steve Forward, Director, UK Airprox Board
Mark Dale, who we note has worked in recreational aviation (hang gliding and paragliding) for over thirty years, was General Secretary of a pan European aviation body and was awarded a Royal Aero Club bronze medal in 2017, spells out his reasons for challenging drone airprox reports in an article to be published in the September edition of Pilot – Ed.
Your published anonymous letter in July (‘What does the CAA really do?’) unfortunately contained numerous factual inaccuracies. Having taken over as Head of the CAA’S General Aviation Unit in mid-may I am very keen to dispel some of these myths. To pick-up on some of the letter’s claims:
• We do not charge pilot licence holders to process a change of address
• Our GA Unit does not regulate corporate and charter jets or corporate and charter helicopters
• We do not ‘encourage the closure of airfields’
• The switch to 8.33khz radios is a European-wide requirement. We provided over £2m in funding to UK private pilots to help buy new radios
• We have not told ‘aviators over a 25-year period that GPS is not reliable for navigation’. We have promoted GPS devices for many years
• The registration of drones and model aircraft is a government policy. The Department for Transport held a full public consultation on this last year
• We do not ‘pull pilot’s medicals for the slightest reason’ – in fact we are one of the most progressive authorities in trying to help pilots with conditions retain their licence. We are leading the way in Europe with an easily accessible self-declaration medical system for certain aeroplane and helicopter pilots.
I believe continuous improvement is important for any organisation, including the CAA’S GA Unit and urge everyone in the GA community to work with us as we look to the future.
Rachel Gardner-poole, Head of the GA Unit, CAA
Pilot’s correspondent replies:
In the email copied to me the CAA’S communications department says the authority is not the Mafia but, frankly, that’s how many UK private pilots and instructors see it. Perhaps the department needs to do a better job in explaining the CAA position on so many aspects of flying.
The question being asked is what does the CAA do and my letter was promoted by an earlier correspondent’s complaint about the time it took to respond and the fact that the CAA will not take phone calls.
If the GA unit is not involved with corporate charter jets or helicopters, it would be good to know what their stance is on the likely effects on safety for private flyers when commercial concerns, airports, make airspace grabs thereby generating severe pinch points.
If the CAA does not encourage airfield closure, would it like to comment on the possible adverse effects on private flyer safety when the number of available airfields is much reduced?
The 8.33 MHZ change was indeed Europe-wide and one which the CAA might have resisted more strongly, but why did the CAA see the need to immediately implement frequency changes at so many airfields? The £2m funding is just a drop in the ocean in terms of owners’ re-equipment costs.
Would the CAA like to give a date from when they actively encouraged the use of GPS for navigation in private aircraft? Would not an earlier recognition of the benefits have done more to prevent many airspace infringements? And would investment in GPS equipment not have provided much better value for owners than having to buy new radios?
All private pilots and instructors, including your ‘Star Letter’ correspondent of June, who cannot get a timely response from an already under-resourced CAA, must be wondering how the authority is going to cope with thousands of model aircraft pilots, as well as drone pilots, and how this is going to affect service.
I do have examples of the CAA’S most unhelpful attitude to medical problems but these are personal cases and cannot be discussed, but a little selfexamination by the CAA in this area would not go amiss.
I am delighted to know that the CAA will not charge me for changing my address!