Currently the UK has a flagship drones testing centre in the West Wales UAS Environment, which offers a large testing area of segregated airspace and varying geographical features. It is also possible for an individual to set up a testing site, by applying to the CAA for permission to do so. What is the best way forward?
A number of UK based drone industry Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) have highlighted to Government that they struggle to identify and access appropriate testing sites that enable them to test their drones and technology effectively and affordably, particularly where they are testing new sense and avoid and communication applications. The ability to test counter-drone technology, such as drone detection systems, may also be hampered by this lack of access.
The Government believes an adequate testing environment for drone service start-ups and SMEs in the UK is crucial to its aim of supporting the innovation and growth of a UK drone services industry. The government is proposing 4 solutions, ranging from relaxing flight rules in some very rural areas on a case-by-case basis, to building a new national drone testing and evaluation centre and allowing more open access to it.
Flyby Technology would support a joined up strategy where either a new or expanded national drone test centre was established, but where access was granted to British drone industry SMEs. For example Pilotwise International Ltd is currently examining emerging technologies for incorporation into its family of new drones. They in particular are excited at the possibilities a national test centre would bring; allowing collaboration with other advanced SMEs to keep the UK ahead.
22 December 2016
Proposal B Pilot competency and licensing
In the traditional manned aviation industry pilots’ licences are well-established internationally recognised qualifications, which ensure high safety standards and measure a pilot's flying ability. If we incorporate flight crew licensing into the drone industry we must also follow ICAO requirements for such licensing, namely the inclusion of medical examinations. The UK does not believe that medical examinations for drone pilots are necessary or appropriate.
If we insist on flight crew licensing, we must also have some means of measuring each pilot against a common standard. No such standard exists, either internationally or within the UK in isolation. Because the government believes the UK has an operational and capability lead in the global industry, it is keen to collaborate on establishing internationally recognised pilot competency standards. This will enable our pilots and organisations to compete globally.
Whilst this work continues, there is more that could be done to create and introduce clearer standards of competency for different types of drone use in the UK, and a clearer process for reaching and validating these standards.
The Government’s intention is to ensure that as drone technologies develop and drones become more prevalent, drone pilot standards adapt to meet these requirements and that adequate training and qualification standards are in place. The Government believes having a clearer and more extensive set of competency standards would provide clarity for businesses as to the level of qualification they should expect from pilots for different types of operation. This would solidify safety and competency standards across the sector. A set of common standards could also be used in future to streamline the application process to the CAA when asking for permission to test certain uses of drones or undertake a commercial use of a drone.
The consultation then asks the public to suggest which standards it wishes to have implemented and how; it does not really inform the public of the complications developing standards will create. Flyby technology has been developing competency standards with the latest training science informing that debate for some time; these will be presented in due course. The answer should incorporate best practice from the top training schools for adoption by everyone. Sadly the low quality standards of some training providers make it difficult to identify best practice as it is often missing. Flyby Technology will be at the centre of discussions because of our training heritage and extensive professional manned aviation experience. We see this aspect of the proposals the most contentious and perhaps the hardest to deliver. We look forward to contributing to the solution and have a lot of innovative ideas to meet the challenge.