The UK Government is to regulate drone aircraft more heavily, it has been revealed. Under the planned legislation, drone enthusiasts could be forced to take safety awareness tests, while drones weighing more than 250g could be restricted from flying near airports or above 400 feet.
The news follows a series of near-misses and drone-strikes that have peppered 2017. In July, a pilot on landing approach for London Gatwick airport was forced to take ‘evasive action’ to avoid hitting a ‘very large’ drone with wings around 1 meter in diameter.
The UK Airprox Board (UKAB) subsequently delivered its verdict on the incident in mid-October, and claimed that the unidentified drone pilot involved had put 130 ‘lives at risk’. In that same week, news emerged from Canada that a drone had struck a commercial airliner approaching Quebec City.
According to the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), there have been 81 drone incidents this year – up from 71 in 2016 and 29 in 2015.
The legislation, due to be published in spring 2018, will apparently force customers to register and sit a test before flying their drones.
Drone pilot and trainer Elliott Corke, Director of HexCam, has told the BBC that most recreationally and commercially used drones weigh more than 250g. He added that many new drone users are ‘surprised’ to learn how many rules surround drone flying, such as the Air Navigation Order 2016.
Martin Sloan, a partner at law firm Brodies, told DIGIT that the Government’s initiative to regulate drone activity was commendable but stressed that these rules would need to be strongly enforced to have any noticeable impact.
Martin told DIGIT: “These plans were trailed by the Government earlier in the summer. Whilst anything that can improve drone safety and encourage more responsible use of drones is welcome, it is unclear how these new measures will work in practice.
“We already have rules on the use of drones under the Air Navigation Order. However, the widespread availability and low cost of drones means that many users are often unaware of these rules.
“The proposals to require users to take awareness tests are laudable, but it’s hard to see how this will be enforced in practice, unless completion of the test is tied to registration and activation of the drone itself.
“Many consumer drones are given as gifts. In the run up to Christmas, the Government might be better advised to work with manufacturers and retailers to raise awareness of responsible drone use, rather than relying on a leaflet in the box, which will likely be lost in the excitement of Christmas Day.”
Christian Struwe, Head of European Public Policy at drone manufacturer DJI, added to Martin’s comments that the laws out in the field might also be difficult to enforce, most prominently the height restriction. But Christian also told BBC Breakfast: “The good thing is that as an industry we are already working on it. We can limit how high they can fly.”
Mr Struwe added that he welcomed the legislation and its proposed limits on the ‘bad use’ of drones, concluding that it was important for customers to be aware of the regulations surrounding the hobby.
Serena Kennedy, Assistant Chief Constable of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), told the BBC that the law could also curb the use of drones for delivering items such as mobile phones and drugs to prisons. Kennedy stressed that this is an ‘increasing problem’ for authorities, noting: “This draft legislation will give us the powers we need to tackle drones when they are being used for criminal purposes.”
Kennedy added that as the legislation develops, it could allow the police to experiment with more high-tech solutions to preventing drone flight into restricted areas, such as geo-fencing and GPS positioning.