Commercial pilots have expressed concerns about Australia’s drone laws, saying they raise the risk of fatal collisions between unmanned drones and passenger planes. In a submission to the Senate committee which is investigating the safety of the new drone laws, pilots from Qantas and Virgin Australia have asked the government to reconsider the law change, under which drones two kilograms and lighter will no longer need approval to fly in public spaces, Xinhua news agency reported.
Drones will not, however, be allowed to fly within 5.5 km of an airport and not within 30 metres of buildings.
In a Senate submission published on Friday, Qantas chief pilot Richard Tobiano said if the laws are relaxed, there will be more drone pilots flying their small, dangerous aircraft despite no training.
“Against this context, it would be opportune for the airline industry to confirm best-practice processes in managing the ramifications of an incident ahead of time,” Tobiano said in the submission.
He said if the laws were to stay, it would up to police and other law enforcement agencies to ensure untrained pilots aren’t breaking the laws and flying near airports, or too high, in order to minimize the threat to passenger flights.
“As with lasers and model rockets, this regime should involve education of – and strategic and tactical coordination between – state and federal law enforcement agencies, local government and CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority),” Tobiano said.
“Critically, it must also include a comprehensive suite of offence provisions and penalties to ensure general and specific deterrence.”
Meanwhile, Virgin Australia’s pilot John Lyons said drones would cause much more – even fatal – damage compared to something such as a bird being sucked into a jet engine.
“Launching a drone close to an airport, particularly in proximity to an uncontrolled aerodrome, exposes aircraft (which are often jet powered) to the risk of collision which could result in substantial damage, loss of control and potentially, loss of life,” Lyons said.
“Collision with an UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) could be considerably more dangerous than striking a bird.”