As the Guardian today reveals that MoD pressured air safety regulators over the first flight of the UK’s new Protector drone into the UK, we are publishing a new four-page briefing raising many questions about the programme.
The Guardian article, which revealed that MoD pressured the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to delay safety notifications to prevent possible protests shows that clandestine pressure has been effectively applied on an independent public regulator by the MoD which resulted in the erosion of safety norms.
Even more worrying perhaps is that in the near future, the CAA is due to make a significant decisions on whether the MoD’s new military drones, equipped with largely untried ‘detect and avoid’ technology, are safe to fly in UK airspace. The fact that the MoD has already successfully exerted pressure to get the CAA to bend safety rules in relation to the flight of a Protector is extremely disturbing.
While there are many international corporations with a vested interest in opening up UK skies to beyond-line-of sight drones and there have been exaggerated claims about the economic benefit of doing so, the reality is that the technology is still far from mature. Our research shows that crashes of large military drones occur frequently, around twice per month on average over the past decade. The CAA exists as an independent regulator to ensure public safety and it should not be coming under such pressure. Parliament must ensure the independence of the CAA in this matter, and guarantee that public safety considerations are paramount.
For more details and the many questions raised by the Protector Programme see our new briefing.