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UK reports rapid rise in near collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft

28 January 2019
Reported air-proximity incidents between manned and small unmanned aircraft in the UK have risen rapidly over the past decade. Source: Getty Images

Near-collisions between manned aircraft and small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAVs) have risen rapidly over the past decade with the trend set to continue, the UK Air-proximity (Airprox) Board disclosed on 28 January.

In its annual Analysis of Airprox in UK Airspace report released for the period January to December 2017 (report number 33), the Airprox Board found that while the overall number of incidents between manned aircraft have remained broadly stable over the 10 years from 2008 to 2017, those recorded between manned aircraft and SUASs have increased. In 2008 there were 155 incidents between manned aircraft, rising to 159 in 2017. For manned aircraft and SUASs, these numbers rose from zero to 113 over the same time-period.

Further to the increase in the number of incidents, the Airprox Board – a joint enterprise between the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Military Aviation Authority (MAA) – has noted increased levels of danger associated with such encounters.

“Not only are overall reported incident numbers rising rapidly, but the proportion that are risk-bearing is very high,” the report said, adding, “That so many of the SUAS incidents are risk-bearing compared with aircraft-to-aircraft incidents is attributed to the fact that drones, by their small nature, are difficult to see and so it is probably only the closer events that are reported”.

For Airprox reporting purposes, it has broken SUASs down into four categories of drones; balloons (including toy balloons and meteorological/research balloons); model aircraft; and unknown objects. The board noted that the rise in incidents involving SUASs properly began in 2014, when drones became more widely available to the general public.

In terms of the military (in the UK, aviation is operated by all branches of the armed forces) the report noted that hour-for-hour, service pilots are about twice as likely to experience an Airprox than general aviation (GA) pilots.

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