Technology Editor The Sydny Morning Herald
Sophisticated unmanned aerial drones are moving from the battlefield into civilian life, triggering safety investigations at major airports and prompting warnings that the air safety regulator is ill-equipped to manage their use.
The Age is aware of safety breaches at two Australian airports involving unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, best known for their use in warfare.
In the first case, the Australian Federal Police investigated a drone found “inside the perimeter fence” at Sydney Airport in February, but was unable to identify the owner.
In the second, Australian and International Pilots Association vice-president Richard Woodward, an A380 captain, said a hobby drone buzzed around planes and took photos at Perth Airport in 2009.
Mr Woodward said hobbyist drones – which can be navigated using video goggles or remote control, or can be programmed to fly autonomously using GPS and in some cases reach the heights of passenger aircraft – had become a threat to the travelling public, comparing the risk to that of laser pointers.
“As they grow in size the collision risk becomes a serious issue further away from the ground and in controlled airspace,” he said.
“If the vehicles are operated in or near the approach path of an airport where they’re likely to collide with an aircraft, they provide a similar risk to operations as colliding with a large bird or flock of birds.”
Several videos have been uploaded to Vimeo and YouTube of Australians flying drones in breach of the law, which requires that commercial drones be flown below 400 feet unless given permission, at least 30 metres from people and away from airports and populous areas.
Australians have also recounted mid-air incidents with manned aircraft on web forums such as RCForums.com.
Just 21 organisations have been certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to fly drones in Australia, but representatives from certified firms said unlicensed companies and individuals were increasingly using cheap drones from China and Hong Kong flown by unqualified pilots, and were not flying in designated recreation flying fields.
Jeremy Bendall, flight operations manager with Nowra-based aeronautical engineer and drone operator Air Affairs Australia, said: “There’s going to be an incident probably with one of those guys who doesn’t know the rules and regulations, and the whole industry’s going to be tarnished from that.”
Australia was the first country to introduce legislation covering civilian use of drones in 2002
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/flying-drones-a-safety-threat-at-airports-20120910-25nds.html#ixzz262TKasKx