Senior figures within the UK’s armed forces have warned that drones are one of greatest threats faced by military helicopter pilots.
It has emerged that a collision between one of the gadgets and their choppers is now considered to be among the top five risks faced by Army, Navy and RAF fliers, according to the Joint Helicopter Command.
The Joint Helicopter Command, which employs over 8,000 servicemen and women, operates more than 200 aircraft. Its fleet includes Merlin and Wildcat helicopters from the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force, the RAF’s Chinooks and Pumas, and the Army Air Corps’ Apache gunship, Wildcat, Lynx, Gazelle and Bell 212 helicopters.
Conveying the military’s concerns in Parliament, Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy said: “There is a particular risk to helicopters, whether military or civilian, such as those used by the police, search and rescue or air ambulance services.
“The possibility of a drone strike is now listed by the Joint Helicopter Command of our Armed Forces as one of the five greatest risks to life in its sphere of operations.”
He also revealed a drone may have been flown into The Shard, one of the capital’s most famous buildings, amid rising use of the devices.
Lefroy demanded mandatory geofencing – invisible, electronic barriers to stop drones around airport and prisons – to tackle the threat, with owners required to register on a database and take out third-party insurance.
Drones incidents logged by the UK Airprox Board, which investigates near-misses in British airspace, rose from three in 2014 to 71 in 2016. A total of 26 were classified as category A, the most serious, last year.
Airliners were twice banned from landing at Gatwick earlier this month after a drone was spotted hovering near the runway. Planes were subsequently diverted, while others were put in holding patterns.
Responding to the concerns, Transport Minister John Hayes revealed the government would unveil tough measures to clampdown on irresponsible users following a consultation.
“There is a seriousness about this and an intent to act.”