UK drone pilot who buzzed WWII plane during airshow pleads guilty

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A man in the UK is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty this week to having endangered a World War II-era Royal Air Force plane by flying his drone near the craft during an historic airshow event last July.

Identified as Mark Bagguley, the accused admitted to having piloted the drone spotted dangerously close to a wing of the Battle of Britain Memorial Hurricane plane during the annual Buxton Carnival in Derbyshire last summer. In addition to the peril to which the defendant exposed the aircraft – which is considered an historic vehicle – his prohibited piloting of the UAV could have provoked injury or worse to the some 20,000 spectators on the ground in the event of a crash.

Read: UK drone pilot threatened with a gun in disturbing video 

Making matters even worse, the entire area had been designated a no-flight zone to all craft except those participating in the event’s scheduled flypast demonstrations. Not done there, Bagguley was also charged with having flown the drone beyond his visible line of sight when he piloted it near the vintage plane.

After pleading guilty to magistrates in Chesterfield Monday, Bagguley now awaits their sentencing decision expected on February 9. Any penalties inflicted will be heaped atop the considerable denunciation and scolding that he’s already received for the exceptionally bonehead move.

“The way the pilot flew his drone was unsafe, illegal, and totally unacceptable.,” said Matt Moore, a police officer and safety manager with the Derbyshire Constabulary’s UAV squad. “As a police drone unit, we know the benefits drones can bring to society, but people using a drone in this way not only threaten the safety of aircraft and the public, they also damage the future use of drones.”

For its part, the Royal Air Force used the attention generated by the incident to remind drone users that its planes routinely conduct low-altitude flight exercises in designated areas across the UK, and that those are similarly exposed to the threats of unauthorized or unconsidered UAV activity.

Press accounts describe the case as the first of its kind in the UK, but if so it is now no longer unique. Last September, police in southern England confiscated seven different drones that were being operated in the no-fly zone protecting plane demonstrations during the Bournemouth Air Festival. 

Read moreBournemouth police pocket seven drones in banned airshow space 

With those kinds of infractions in mind, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) used Monday’s “serious drone prosecution” to issue drone pilots reminders about safe operation – around planes, and generally.

“Flying a drone and endangering an aircraft in this way is totally unacceptable,” said Jonathan Nicholson, the CAA’s assistant director. “Airspace restrictions, like the one in place for this case, apply to even the smallest drones, so it’s really important that people check before they fly. When you use a drone you’re sharing the airspace with many other types of aviation, so it’s vital that drone users consider the safety of everyone when flying.”

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