The CAA protests…

Pilot - - AIRMAIL -

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!


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