back to article Keep your stupid drones away from piloted aircraft, rages CAA

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has complained of six incidents since May of last year in which boys and their toys almost collided with piloted craft in British airports' airspace. An Airbus A320 passenger jet managed to miss a hovering drone at Heathrow by a mere 6m (20ft) last July, a frightening proximity considering …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Launch a code of conduct with no repercussions if any wannabe TopGun (2) ignores it. There are laws to govern the size of remote controlled airplanes, surely that should be extended to cover quads.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The same laws apply to these quadcopters, including restrictions on the size, airspace they can be flown in, altitude, distance from obstacles, etc etc. Unfortunately some cretins fly them who seem to think that these laws don't apply to them, and equally seem to be oblivious to the risks they're exposing other people to. The sad thing is they're probably the same people who'll carry on regardless when their actions provoke even more restrictive laws that ruin everything for the law-abiding majority.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A code of conduct is a description of actions that you should take to avoid falling afoul of the law of the land. There are existing laws under which drone users could be prosecuted for stupid behaviour - this is a way of pointing out what they can do safely and legally.

      Compare with "The Highway Code" for road users

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        What you say is true about "codes". But if you feel like you won't get caught, what's to stop you? Like speeding? No cops... feel free. If there's cops, mind the speed limit. Not condoning this behavior, but that's the way it is.

        Law is only valid if it's a) enforceable and b) if it is actually enforced. How many times have we read or heard that something bad going on is ignored by LEA's because it's too minor, even though there's a law against it?

    3. Johndoe888

      This is well covered by The Air Navigation Order, I hate the phrase "Drone" when used to describe a quadcopter, these are the vermin of the skies when bought as toys and flown by muppets ! They give responsible pilots a bad reputation, as per other vermin these toys should be shot on site with a 12 bore !

      1. x 7

        "as per other vermin these boys should be shot on site with a 12 bore !"

        there, fixed it for you

        1. MarkSitkowski

          Or, perhaps, with this?

  2. DavCrav Silver badge

    Since this problem is only going to get worse, and will result in a mass murder incident at some point, we need a register of all drones, with sizeable penalties for not registering a drone, for example 10 years in jail for possession of an unlicensed drone. Fly them near protected airspace, massive fine and/or jail time. It's the only language certain idiots understand.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Self-built drones and quads?

      I can see that it would be straightforward to require a licence to buy a fully-built drone or quad, and to have every one of them fitted with some sort of RFID or similar (would need greater distance) identifying it and thus its owner, but you will get DIY types building their own and flying them and relishing that "The Man" can't stop them. All you can do there is have serious punishment for them if caught -- if they are caught. I could see some lumpen basement-dweller bringing down a passenger plane, threatening his Mum upstairs not to breathe a word, and quietly going about his business, undetected.

    2. Flak_Monkey

      Open Season

      ...or declare open season on drones.

      What could possibly go wrong?

      1. Ken 16 Silver badge

        Re: Open Season

        Do you mean shooting at them or (not sure how high they fly) running them down on horseback?

    3. Greg J Preece

      Yeah, let's get mega-authoritarian over something pretty minor. Ten years in jail for not registering a toy, that's reasonable, right? "It's the only language they understand" seems to fly in the face of everything we've ever learned imposing prison sentences.

      It wouldn't be too hard instead, perhaps, to require any drone over a certain power level to be transponder equipped. I'd even be OK with needing to pass a test to operate anything bigger than x size, as we do for many other forms of equipment. At least then they'd be educated on how airspace regs work. People who want to muck around in their yard still can, people who want something that can do 2000ft for half an hour need a licence.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        You mean the laws we already have

        The issue is that quadcopters are much easier to fly than traditional fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, and even powerful ones are really quite cheap.

        So people are buying and flying them without thinking - "Planes are big, they'll be fine" or "It's miles away from my quadcopter".

        Publicising the rules and the likely consequences of entering controlled airspace is the best way to handle this.

  3. Phil W


    "considering the likely outcome of a quadcopter's entrance into a jet engine at 700ft above ground level"

    I'd actually be interested to know how a jet engine would cope with a quadcopter going into it. Don't they test engines for resistance to consuming birds etc? Obviously a quadcopter is potentially a bit more solid than a bird but not substantially so in most cases.

    Sounds like a job for Mythbusters/Braniacs etc.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Consequences

      A flock of seagulls ( thought I would never use that phrase) vs a largish sized QuadCopter or two.

      I would easily prefer the Flock o'Gulls due to their meaty/bony disposition.. Flesh, feathers and bones would basically disintegrate... Plastic and metal would probably just bend and become lodged in amongst other parts that don't want pieces of plastic or metal lodged next to them...

      Within 20ft of an aircraft should be considered as potential manslaughter.... ( 20ft sounds a bit exaggerated though as the trailing turbulence should have knocked the quad out of control.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Consequences

        There's some delicate parts, in theory the engine should survive a strike and is designed and tested to, realistically you do not want the possibility of Murphy turning up and showing you what you missed on a real plane with passengers.

    2. Andy A

      Re: Consequences

      The tests for aircraft engines typically involve firing a frozen chicken into the intake.

      The engine WILL be destroyed. The tests are intended to check that the resulting debris doesn't make it out sideways from the engine and so penetrate the cabin. A quadcopter strike would be similar in mass to a bird strike.

      A pilot will be left with a hugely unbalanced aircraft, and so an immense workload right at the point when the normal workload is highest - at take off or landing.

      A bird striking other parts of the airframe has serious consequences too. Hitting anything solid at a couple of hundred miles an hour is bound to cause havoc to the lightweight materials used.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Consequences

        They don't use frozen chickens.

        1. Roq D. Kasba

          Re: Consequences

          Frozen chickens is a myth, I used to work for a high-performance aerospace glass manufacturer. One day we did a bird test, the chicken was 'rescued' from a battery farm that morning, and had a very confused couple of hours of stretching her wings and freedom before having her neck wrung and being stuffed in a 'supergun' pointed towards a fighter jet cockpit cover at 600mph.

          Of course this needs recording with high speed film, a 400' reel takes 1.5 seconds to spin up to speed before there's about a second or so of useable shots - but that's plenty. It means a LOT of light is needed, has to be flicker-free, so high-temperature tungsten glowing. It's shot in a white room with a missing wall (massive pressure change would blow out windows). When the bird is fired, the room turns pink, there are no shreds of feather or anything, the chicken is atomised. Those super-hot lights instantly start to cook the splatter, so suddenly you feel like Sunday lunch.

          I, too, would take the bird over the drone. It may not finish the engine off, but would certainly mean everything would need to be checked, tested, take a plane out of service for an age.

        2. HarryBl

          Re: Consequences

          They use an explosive charge on one of the turbine blades. 10 million quid up in smoke

          1. Roq D. Kasba

            Re: Consequences

            >>The longer version of the video is an object lesson on how to deal with serious doo-doo happening to the plane you're driving IMHO:-


            Oh my, that's such a good example of why ATC and pilots have to speak with calm authority - communication so clear and complete with no wasted words or information, all calm, no hysteria, clear thinking, still friendly, really showing the best of professionals being the best of professionals.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Consequences

              > really showing the best of professionals being the best of professionals.

              Nothing to do with being "the best" (or even "professionals" for that matter, aside from getting paid to sit there). It is just that we practise the scenario so many times that in the end it sort of becomes a "normal" situation. The risk perception is certainly much different than what the untrained eye sees, but to me the merit is not on flight crew or ATC, but on those anonymous people who years ago thought up the idea of pre-rehearsed procedures and constant training. They made look good even the most useless amongst us (I rank pretty highly on that score).

              Disclaimer: I flew commercially for a few years until that felt a bit much like work. I never had a serious emergency for real, or if I did, I never realised.

              1. Roq D. Kasba

                Re: Consequences

                I think you underplay your hand AC. It is professional, and the fact that it is second nature rehearsed is what makes it so. Professional armies don't just run around with rifles on day 1, they get acclimatised through practice and repetition. Likewise surgeons. You could say they just stand there and play with red goo, which is also true, but after much repetition and based on learning from others and previous results.

                You may feel like you're 'just sitting there', but you aren't doing so recklessly (almost all of the time), and much like a paramedic you deal with the problem of the moment measuredly and without panic or flapping. No matter if you crap yourself later, not doing so whilst in a problem is professionalism.

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: Consequences

        The results of a BASH (Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard) with commercial flights is well known. The thing is that birds are pretty much all of a certain density with known momentum but a drone might add some variables that weren't considered since the blades are already moving at high speed and the motor windings are considerably more dense than any part of a bird. It would be an interesting experiment to take a aged jet engine and feed it drone.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Consequences

        The tests for aircraft engines typically involve firing a frozen chicken into the intake.

        Frozen chicken? That doesn't sound realistic. Where will they encounter those, at extremely high altitudes?

        Curious minds (or at least I) want to know :)

      4. iranu

        Re: Consequences

        You are confusing a bird strike test with a blade off test.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Consequences

      "I'd actually be interested to know how a jet engine would cope with a quadcopter going into it. Don't they test engines for resistance to consuming birds etc? Obviously a quadcopter is potentially a bit more solid than a bird but not substantially so in most cases."

      US Airways Flight 1549 ended up in the Hudson river because it consumed a couple of birds... The engines are simply tested to ensure they don't explode into a shower of high velocity sharp bits, which would cut the fuselage into shreds. Birds will still total then engine. At takeoff, you need every bit of power you have, you've got your maximum fuel load, and you're trying to climb. Lose an engine and you're going down, hopefully you're lucky enough to have a nice fire-quenching river locally and a damn good pilot behind the stick.

      A strike during landing isn't "quite" as bad, but at low altitude you could do without a sudden reduction in power because some idiot has flown an RC plane into your engine, and if you are forced to do a go-around, you're back to wanting all the power you can get again.

      Only the other day we were hearing about fire fighters in the USA being prevented from doing helicopter water drops because there were drone sightseers buzzing about.

      So I'm erring towards the "open season" solution. Airports are controlled airspace, you're not supposed to be there, end of! You shouldn't need to see written rules to realise flying a drone near "real" planes isn't a bright idea... So as they never manage to track the owner for punishment, maybe a blanket rule that you're allowed to bring down any drone trespassing into controlled airspace....

      ... and I'll go fetch the 12 bore.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Consequences

        "Airports are controlled airspace, you're not supposed to be there, end of!"

        Try flying a kite anywhere near an airport .You'll have a few very tetchy people descending on you in no time flat.

        Drones are harder to spot and track, but there are penalties already on the books for violating controlled airspace.

        WRT: "Recklessly endangering an aircraft" - this one should be used against those oiks who think it's fun to lase planes. It'd be even better if this was extended to enable similar penalties when they lase train drivers and passing cars.

    4. Anna Logg

      Re: Consequences

      This is what ingesting a crow at the wrong moment does to a jet engine:-

      The longer version of the video is an object lesson on how to deal with serious doo-doo happening to the plane you're driving IMHO:-

      I agree with other commentards, a drone would make more of a mess.

  4. Ru'

    Perhaps the drones also scare away birds, making a bird-strike less likely...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not in my experience - in fact, it's the other way around. The birds see it flying and think "what's this odd looking bird? I'll go and have a closer look"

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "I'll go and have a closer look"

        If they're magpies then the call is "Attaaaaaaaaack!"

        We gave up flying lightweight stuff in the back paddock because of this.

  5. Naughtyhorse

    Drone users must understand..

    Do you see what you did there?

  6. David Lawrence

    Have they still not.....

    ...banned them yet? Not long now if this brainless f*ckwitted behaviour keeps up. And then the world will be a nicer place again, but the brainless f*ckwits will have to find some other useless gadget to splurge their cash on instead. Sigh.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Have they still not.....

      Yeah, just ban everything that is abused by a small minority,.regardless of the fact that the primary purpose of these things is to obtain some great photography and viewpoints otherwise not available.

      Just ban them, ban cars, ban motorbikes, ban alcohol, ban chainsaws, ban football crowds, ban dogs ban everything.

      Just ban it. Ban ban ban. Make more laws, remove privilege. Oppress the masses, keep 'em down under the heel.

      1. phear46

        Re: Have they still not.....

        Reading that made me think of trainspotting.

        I chose not to choose drones, I chose something else.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Have they still not.....

          > I chose not to choose drones, I chose something else.

          Who needs drones when you've got heroin, anyway.

      2. Dagg

        Re: Have they still not.....

        >Ban ban ban

        Sounds like the state of Victoria...

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Have they still not.....

      So those of us who use one of these gizmos for checking guttering and stuff in hard to get to places should lose out because some assholes think it is funny to fly by a real plane?

      Fine - ban drones. I'll agree to that...on the proviso that you agree to my demand - ban cars. More people have died due to intentional acts of harm committed by drivers than any from drones. Then when you count the injuries and deaths due to inattentive morons and substance abuses it is extremely clear that the only purpose of a car is to slaughter people. Right?

      Or maybe you can accept that a headline generated by a dumbass or two absolutely does not represent the majority.

  7. John H Woods Silver badge

    If flying drones near aircraft is really dangerous ...

    ... surely additional legislation is inappropriate, given that (a) existing legislation would appear to suffice and (b) there are, as we are constantly reminded, a non-zero number of people who would endanger aircraft on purpose.

    Can't those people charged with ensuring our safety come up with some electronic counter measures and some electronics / software to trace operators?

    I'm pretty sure there's going to be a market in anti-drone devices, as an anti-paparazzi measure for wealthy celebs, if nothing else. Wonder what you'd need for safe capture? Anyone fancy going into business?

  8. horsham_sparky

    defense system

    its a problem that's relatively easy to solve. Install some UAV denial systems around sensitive installations (airports, nuclear reactors etc)and be done with it. Sure the systems are expensive, but they'll be far cheaper than the consequences and costs of a crashed passenger jet..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: defense system

      Or this guy who seems to be well prepared

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: defense system

      There is still a cost which everybody else has to pay because of the existence of idiots.

      Perhaps we should be awarding a prize for someone who finds a way to detect the operators, and for designing an extremely small and light surface to air missile that could be deployed against the drones. Rather than lumps of steel, perhaps the shrapnel could be small plastic shot that would be effective at a few metres but otherwise harmless.

      Failing that, of course, fricking great lasers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: defense system

        Perhaps we should be awarding a prize for someone who finds a way to detect the operators, and for designing an extremely small and light surface to air missile that could be deployed against the drones

        Alternatively, award a prize to someone who could design a small missile to take out the control signal and the associated operator. Darwin would take care of the rest, and it avoids year long legal battles to bore people with and enrich lawyers. I like to be efficient about these things.

        1. horsham_sparky

          Re: defense system

          I'm sure you could adapt one of these for the purpose :-)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: defense system

          "Alternatively, award a prize to someone who could design a small missile to take out the control signal and the associated operator."

          A micro version of the HARM missile. I always liked that one. "Oh look, there's something on the radar. Now it's moved right to the centre of the screen and it's staying there. Bang."

  9. iLuddite

    THE solution

    Grow SmartPeople.

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Re: THE solution

      Sadly, that's already been proven to be unpossible.

    2. Dazed and Confused

      Re: THE solution

      > Grow SmartPeople.

      Sadly the stats show that for each SmartPeople you grow you get an average of 99 DumbPeople as a by product and since these can't be discarded some of them might end up owning a drone.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: THE solution

        Sad but true - almost half the population are of below average intelligence.

        Thus shall it always be.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: THE solution

        "since these can't be discarded"

        Put the supermarkets in charge of delivering new people and we'll test that statement pretty quickly. Best not to ask about the container ships heading for Third World destinations, though.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: THE solution

        > Sadly the stats show that for each SmartPeople you grow you get an average of 99 DumbPeople as a by product

        Explains the demographic change in El Reg's readership, I guess.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Alexander

    Red-top or not, the poor sensationalism in your article really does not help matters.

    In terms of hazard, consumer drones are on a par with birds. Single birdstrike incidents can range from the non-event (I have had a number of them) to the serious (e.g., cockpit penetration or engine flameout).

    In terms of risk, on one hand there are a lot more birds than there are drones, while on the other, I'm pretty sure no birds are motivated by the idea of getting that great shot of a landing / departing aircraft, while some people may be. At the same time, there already exist various offences in the books against endangering the safety of an aircraft and/or aerodromes, for which irresponsible drone operators (but not birds, the latter lacking legal personality) may be prosecuted.

    I no longer fly commercially, but I don't think I would feel threatened by drones any more than I used to be mindful of birds. And when correctly operated, drones do open up a huge number of possibilities.

    In summary, Alexander, I find your article distinctly lacking in humour, sensationalist, poorly written, in bad taste, and frankly pointless. Years ago some Register writer sayeth: Thou shalt not try to be funny. Still applies.

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: @ Alexander

      Isn't it already law that it is completely forbidden to fly anything within the CTR or TMA zones ? Which this must have been if it had been within 20ft.

      1. Greg J Preece

        Re: @ Alexander

        Of course it's already illegal, but as the British government will tell you, you can never have too many laws. There's always some keyboard warrior (like some of the ones in this thread) or hysterical nanny demanding newer and harsher laws for everything from littering to picking your nose.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Alexander

        > Isn't it already law that it is completely forbidden to fly anything within the CTR or TMA zones ?

        No, of course it isn't, else that would make every take-off and landing an offence¹.

        PS: There is no space before the question mark in English. Apologies for being a pedant, but the French do that to me when I don't leave a space.

        ¹ To be honest, most of my landings should have been prosecutable anyway.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    XKCD sorted that one a while back

    The solution is a bit drastic, but I think it is a decent match for the general lack of common sense displayed by the pilots. Next thing you know one of them does this deliberately :(.

  12. x 7

    are the radio control frequencies standardised? If so, why not just surround all airports with jammers?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "are the radio control frequencies standardised? If so, why not just surround all airports with jammers?*

      Unfortunately you can't do that because is might interfere with someone talking on their phone whilst driving.... or the loud bastard next to you in the train .......

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Yes - 2.4GHz

      35MHz is long dead.

      They're nearly all either Wifi, or spread-spectrum, frequency-hopping.

      The latter is specifically designed to get through jamming, as the core principle was that lots of users should reliably coexist - and the emissions of everybody else (esp. Wifi) looks like jamming.

  13. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    IT Angle

    I would have thought

    the easy solution is to limit the power on the control transmitters so they have a range of about 600' (200meters'ish) after that , your drone shuts down automatically and lands.

    If you cant get it back... tough luck.

  14. GX5000

    The Usual

    As usual, a few loose nuts will ruin it for the rest of us then legislation will make the whole affair nasty.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Life in prison

    It is only a matter of time before a fatal accident results. Hopefully the culprit will be found and charged with capital murder for committing a felony that results in death. That one example will make other hobbyists decide to stay well away from planes, I'll bet.

    The real problem isn't the hobbyist though it is the terrorist. Why mess around with trying to smuggle a bomb onto a plane to bring it down? Simply fly a drone into the engine intake on a twin engine jet on approach and I suspect the results would not be good, and the terrorist would have much less risk and live to do it again. Airports are going to need the ability to track and bring down (via jamming or something) drones that enter flight paths, especially during landing approach when a "bird strike" can take down the plane.

    The first time a terrorist does this, laws will probably be passed that make flying a drone within an airport's airspace a terrorist offense. Send one hobbyist to Gitmo and you'd have the same effect, only problem it won't make the news so no one will learn from his example.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Life in prison

      "Why mess around with trying to smuggle a bomb onto a plane to bring it down?"

      Because drones are slow and easily spotted, whilst MANPADs are expensive (but not unduly so).

      There have been a few incidents of the latter at various airports over the years but thankfully most terrorists don't know how to lead the target.

  16. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    One thing I don't get

    These drones operate on radio frequencies, right ?

    We can detect where radio signals come from, right ?

    So why not just line airports with those famous radio goniometers and we have rapid triangulation of unauthorized radio transmissions near an airport.

    Cue the sudden bursting in of burly policeman to the utter suprise of some idiot who then finds out the hard way what it's like to be beaten for 15 minutes with a bobby stick.

    Confiscation of hovertoy follows, along with 1000 hours of community service.

    I think that would put quite a damper on this kind of activity.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    App for that

    Considering the technology available to the considerate there is little "I didn't know" excuse for flying quadcopters or other aerial vehicles where it is already prohibited.

    GPS, Google earth, and the rest. I have KML outlines of various airspace classes on this google earth install ( I think part of the problem is the vendors (no names) gifting out "Drones" to non RC aware (or interested) individuals. One of the computer mags I read did a feature on DJI's and the thrust of the article was "anyone can now get in the air, it's so simple!". Virtually nothing was included on the primary considerations before even connecting the battery, once "anyone and everyone" has access to plastic/metal birds and the "first battery charge time" as the limit to their safety learning period it all gets a bit hairy.

    Somebody should create an app that uses your location to guide what sort of flying you can or cannot do, any NOTAMs within a set distance, hell if you wanted to add a second layer of check to the over 3.5kg (for example) craft have them require an activation code from a mobile phone in the same area.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No actual evidence that drones were involved in any of these incidents!

    There is no actual evidence that drones were involved in any of these near miss incidents! All based on what pilots thought they saw. Just to put it in perspective a phantom is half the height of a letter on a motorway sign, with no contrasting background and at 3+ times the speed of motorway driving. So not only are these accounts of identifying one unlikely but drones do not fly at 200mph, so at least 2 of them would have simply been physically impossible.

    Planes are tested and completely destroy metal debris of 13kg, a 0.5kg plastic drone realistically poses no threat whatsoever.

    And importantly IF these were drones, they were already flying illegally, no additional restrictions are neccesary because they were already breaking the existing ones.

    PS. GPS restrictions are much easier to say than apply. In practice they actually increase the danger and risk of flyaways and out of control drones. Some drones try to do this already and has caused numerous problems with false positives and flyaways. Also a lot of drones do not have a high level or any GPS functionality. So this is not a good solution.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An argument that's for the birds

    I'm sorry, but any jet that can't withstand a quadcopter shouldn't be flying around.

    A goose is a LOT more massive and substantial, and jets HAVE to be able with withstand these, both into the canopy and the engine, at speed.

    Methinks the CAA is protests a long way too much - and are in fact lying their heads off for political effect.

  20. Champ

    Internet of Flying Things

    A former colleague has just started a, er, start-up to address this very issue.

    Have a look at to find a genuine IoT solution

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