Brit upstart releases free air traffic app for drone operators

'Roger, drone 04957, vector 45 at 300 feet...'

Professional carbon drone with GPS. Pic via Shutterstock
A GPS-fitted drone. Stock pic via Shutterstock

British startup Altitude Angel has, in conjunction with air traffic control service NATS, launched an air-traffic-as-a-service app for drone operators.

Drone Assist "presents drone pilots with an interactive map of areas of airspace used by commercial air traffic", according to Altitude Angel.

The theory is that the large number of reported drone near-misses can be reduced by responsible operators on the hunt for up-to-date traffic information for their local areas.

Phil Binks, NATS drone lead, said: "With the number of drone incidents on the rise, it's clear that many people are unaware of the rules or their legal obligations as pilots. Drone Assist is designed to help everyone abide by the rules, identify areas of controlled and restricted airspace and help them enjoy flying whilst ensuring their safety and the safety of other airspace users."

Drone Assist will be available to download free on Android and iOS from Saturday 3 December.

The Civil Aviation Authority reckons that only 40 per cent of drone owners are aware of its Dronecode, a simple guide to staying legal while flying your drone in the UK. It has also launched a website in an attempt to educate drone operators on aviation safety and law.

Most drone operators are recreational folk looking to play about with a toy quadcopter or similar in the back garden. Professionals already know the law, as they are required to be registered with the CAA before they can make a living out of drone operations. The real source of the problem is people who wilfully ignore the rules and regulations and do stupid things like fly their drones at heights of several thousand feet directly into controlled traffic zones, in the hope of taking thrill-seeking videos of airliners.

Despite a furious head-in-sand reaction from the latter category of drone operators, there are numerous credible airprox reports (flight safety reports involving a near-miss or collision) involving drones available to read on the UK Airprox Board website.

Some have suggested that some airprox reports said to involve drones are actually caused by pilots overreacting to airborne plastic bags, contrasting modern drone airprox reports with reports of flying saucers in the 1950s and 1960s.

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