The UK Government has moved to ease the fears of airline pilots and airport officials by placing new restrictions on drone use. The new laws come in the form of an amendment to the 2016 Air Navigation Order.
There are four main headlines from the amendment. First and second, the amendment will restrict all drones from flying above 400 feet and within 1 kilometre of airport boundaries.
This is, according to the Department for Transport, in response to a year-on-year increase in the report of drone incidents with aircraft – with 93 such events occurring in 2017. “These measures will reduce the possibility of damage to windows and engines of planes and helicopters,” says a DfT statement.
The changes will come into effect on 30 July 2018.
The third and fourth points will have an impact on hobbyist pilots: new laws will also require owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and for drone pilots to take an online safety test to ensure. These requirements will come into force on 30 November 2019.
Drone users who flout the new height and airport boundary restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft. This could result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
Users who fail to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000.
The UK Minister for Aviation, Baroness Sugg, said, “We are seeing fast growth in the numbers of drones being used, both commercially and for fun. Whilst we want this industry to innovate and grow, we need to protect planes, helicopters and their passengers from the increasing numbers of drones in our skies. These new laws will help ensure drones are used safely and responsibly.”
Chris Woodroofe, Chief Operating Officer at London’s Gatwick Airport, said that the move “leaves no doubt that anyone flying a drone must stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields.”
“Drones open up some exciting possibilities but must be used responsibly. These clear regulations, combined with new surveillance technology, will help the police apprehend and prosecute anyone endangering the travelling public.”
That may well be so. It’s very possible that altitude limits, new airport no-fly zones, online safety tests and enforced registration will bring more accountability and responsible flying to UK skies. But it’s likely that UK drone pilots will be feeling a little hard done by, considering that these regulations are based on the highly-criticized collision report published by the DfT last year.
We’ve written plenty of times about the risk of collisions between drones and manned aircraft and the media sensationalism that tends to mark every passing incident. All in all, these regulations could well have gone further given the atmosphere.
The measures are sensible and balanced enough, ensuring that the UK remains open to innovation without crushing the life out of the hobbyist community. The DfT has, for example, stated that it will work with model aircraft clubs to ensure they aren’t adversely affected by the new laws – which is a positive.
Registration and online safety tests aren’t too taxing. And although they might do little to prevent idiots from being idiots, they could help to improve the public perception of drone pilots and encourage the media to ease off in the overzealous reporting of ‘near-misses’.
It’s still up to the authorities to enforce these new laws, finding and prosecuting pilots flying where and how they shouldn’t.