The UK Civil Aviation Authority has issued a call to all drone operators in the UK, urging them to exercise responsible flying practices and refrain from operating their drones in proximity to emergency services helicopters engaged in active missions.
This move comes in response to several incidents where drones have caused disruptions during emergency helicopter flights, including air ambulance operations. In collaboration with the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, the UK Civil Aviation Authority has introduced new video guidance to educate drone operators about the risks associated with flying too close to emergency helicopters and the adverse effects on their ability to assist critically ill patients.
Throughout 2022, there were 13 reported instances (compared to nine in 2021) where emergency service helicopter pilots felt that a drone had come dangerously close to their aircraft. Six of these incidents occurred near the Royal London Hospital helipad. Over the past year, drone interference has impacted critical Yorkshire Air Ambulance missions five times.
Jonathan Nicholson a spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said:
“We are actively supporting the growth of drones in the UK to make sure we exploit their full potential, including flying as a hobby.
“But to achieve this we need everyone operating a drone to use their common sense and fly safely. This is especially the case near emergencies where we have seen drones being used to try and film an incident cause a delay to air ambulance helicopters.”
Captain James Booth, a Yorkshire Air Ambulance pilot, said:
“If we are going to an emergency and a drone is spotted then it potentially delays us getting critical care to a patient while we check where the drone is and what it’s doing.
“In many cases the people we are helping need expert trauma care as soon as possible and any delay in us reaching a patient or transferring them quickly to a hospital can have a significant impact.”
If a drone operator observes or hears a helicopter nearby, the most prudent action is promptly landing their drone and allowing the other aircraft to proceed unimpeded. All drone pilots must maintain a safe distance and refrain from flying in a manner that might obstruct emergency services operations while actively responding to incidents such as road traffic accidents, fires, floods, or rescues.
Drone pilots must:
- follow any temporary restrictions that are put in place
- take particular care not to hinder any emergency services helicopters
- respect and protect the privacy of anyone involved in the emergency
The prime guidance and rules drone users need to follow in the UK are explained in the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code .
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