Near miss with airliner should spur review of drones, says Labour | Technology | The Guardian
Labour calls for urgent review of rules after UK Airprox Board reveals plane came within 20 metres of drone above Houses of Parliament

The near collision of a drone and a passenger plane over the Houses of Parliament should be awake-up call for the government to speed up its review of unmanned aerial vehicles, Labour has said.

Richard Burden, a shadow transport minister, said the near-miss over central London and other recent cases should be a “spur to action” after delays in the government’s promised consultation on regulating drones.

“The case for greater regulation needs to be urgently examined, but there is real uncertainty over the government’s intentions,” he said. “Ministers promised a public consultation last year but it has already been delayed into 2016. This incident should be a wake-up call.”

The incident was revealed by the UK Airprox Board, which monitors near collisions in British airspace. In its latest report, it said a “silver drone with a balloon-like centre and four small rotors on each corner” was spotted by the pilot of an Embraer 170 at 2,000ft (600 metres) on 13 September 2015.

The report assessed the risk of collision as high and the pilot estimated that it was pure chance they did not hit each other.

The flight had been passing near parliament at a speed of about 184mph as it came in to land at London City airport. It was estimated by the pilot that the drone came within 20 metres of the jet, which can carry up to 76 passengers, passing down the left hand side of the aircraft.

The report also reveals that there were five other incidents involving drones between August and September last year.

Three near-misses involved passenger planes either coming in to land or flying out of large UK airports, including Manchester, Stansted and Heathrow. None of the drone operators in these cases, including the incident above central London, could be traced.

Current rules on the use of drones state that they must not be flown in any way that could endanger people or property. It is illegal for unmanned aircraft to be flown over streets, towns and cities – and they must be kept well clear of airports and airfields.

However, there have been increasing warnings from pilots and other experts that regulations need to be tightened, with better records of who owns and operates them. The government first said it would have a public dialogue on greater regulation in 2014 but the official consultation is now not taking place until later this year.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Drones are becoming increasingly popular and have the potential to bring significant economic benefits, but it is vital that they are operated safely, in a way that does not put members of the public and other aircraft at risk.

“The government is leading efforts with international bodies to develop a stringent regulatory framework focusing on safety. There will be a public consultation before a government strategy is published in 2016.”

The consultation is looking at a range of options including regulation, registration and licensing options and a database to increase transparency on the use of drones for the general public.