Fears over ‘irresponsible’ drone pilots causing ‘mayhem’ on Hampstead Heath

Reitred UCL lab technician Jim Chambers fears the public are being put at risk by people flying dron

Reitred UCL lab technician Jim Chambers fears the public are being put at risk by people flying drones on Hampstead Heath without training or experience. - Credit: Archant

An 87-year-old drone pilot has warned amateur operators are endangering visitors to one of the capital’s best-loved parks.

Model aircraft enthusiast Jim Chambers from Finchley Central has flown drones and model planes for 50 years, but he’s stunned at how amateurs with little or no experience of flying can ignore aviation rules.

“These planes are great fun to fly, but require expertise,” said Jim who went on to explain how easy it is for people to buy a drone and operate it in spite of having no training or insurance.

“They can then go straight onto Hampstead Heath and cause mayhem,” he said.

According to Jim – who flies at the Hampstead Heath Extension and spent 50 hours learning how to operate his own drone before taking it out of its box – untrained operators flout guidance including not flying above 400 feet.

“We can’t allow people to buy a machine and think they can fly. The skill level is of the highest order,” Jim said after explaining how drones fly in different directions rather than just forward making them harder to control compared to model aeroplanes.

“Untrained drone pilots are unequivocally a danger,” he said.

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“These lads are zooming around without care or attention. They’re careless and irresponsbile. It’s giving model aeroplane flying a very bad name,” he added.

Jim – a retired lab technician awarded an MBE after 40 years of service to University College, London – urged amateurs to join clubs and called on the authorities to provide space outside built up areas where budding pilots can learn.

“I’m not trying to stop people enjoying themselves. I’m just trying to stop people being injured by irresponsible ‘pilots’,” the member of Ivinghoe Soaring Association said.

A Hampstead Heath spokeswoman said: “The Hampstead Heath constabulary is actively managing drone use whilst taking into consideration public safety and will advise people accordingly with regard to Civil Aviation Authority regulations.”

She went on to confirm that draft guidance was presented to the Heath’s consultative committee in March with plans to update it in time for a management meeting in July.