The UK Government has announced its intention to move forward with plans to extend existing regulations around drone use. The report, published in response to a consultation with various industry stakeholders in 2018, outlines new police powers to tackle drones misuse and more.
You can read the consultation report in full, here.
The main headlines from the report are as follows:
- UK police are set to be given additional powers to land, seize and search drones
- The UK government will work on expanded use of technology to detect and repel drones at sites such as airports and prisons
- The exclusion zone around UK airports is to be extended
- From November 2019, UK drone operators will be required by law to register and pass an online safety test
It’s important to emphasize that these proposals do not come as a result of what happened at Gatwick Aiport before Christmas. They are the result of a consultation process after the UK government made its initial proposals last year.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of drone legislation has been heavily politicized in the UK, with the Labour party in opposition using the fiasco at Gatwick to attack a Conservative government already under pressure and busy dealing with another fiasco. That is perhaps the reason that this report has been so heavily linked to what happened at Gatwick.
A lack of input from commercial UK drone pilots?
There were 3,957 responses received via the consultation online survey, and a further 1,104 replies which were received by other means by the Department for Transport. The total number of responses was 5,061.
Of those who responded to the online survey, 3813 represented individuals and 144 represented organisations.
Of those individuals, 2310 used drones for leisure; 1947 were model aircraft flyers; 165 were general aviation pilots; 265 flew drones for commercial reasons and 187 classified themselves as “other”.
Of the organisations, 73 were businesses that use drones; 22 were membership or representative organisations; 12 were airports or airlines; 4 were drone manufacturers or vendors; 4 were research institutions or universities; 10 were local authorities or statutory bodies; 2 were businesses considering using drones and 17 were in other groups.
The fact that fewer than 300 commercial drone pilots took part is surprising to say the least, particularly as they stand to be most affected by any changes. Model aircraft pilots were able to mobilize and respond in force.
Liv Sugg, the UK’s Aviation Minister, said:
We received over 5000 responses, a substantial increase from our last consultation, indicating the increasing interest in this emerging technology.
Responses reflected a broad range of views and positions on drones, but a common feeling shared by respondents was that the communication and enforcement of regulations to guarantee safety is of paramount importance. The Government shares this view and continues to work with the CAA to build on the ‘Drone safe’ campaign particularly in the run up to registration and competency testing becoming legal requirements in November
The vast majority of drone users fly safely and responsibly, and adhere to the rules and regulations that are in place. However, if a drone is used illegally we must ensure that the police have the powers to enforce the law, and that the most up to date technology is available to detect, track and potentially disrupt the drone.
The new measures proposed in the consultation, such as giving the police the power to request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offence being committed, were met with strong support from respondents. These new powers will also include giving the police the option to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offences, to ensure effective enforcement and an immediate deterrent to those who may misuse drones or attempt to break the law.
The Government is finalising a Draft Drones Bill which will give the police these powers and we intend to bring this Bill forward in 2019.
— Christian Struwe (@DroneEurope) January 8, 2019
DJI Responds to UK Government’s New Measures
Given the infamy now associated with drone technology in the wake of whatever the hell happened at Gatwick and the media response, you might expect that usually-vocal industry stakeholders would be eager to point to the possibility that there may never have been a drone disrupting London’s second airport.
However, comment of that sort hasn’t been forthcoming. There are a few reasons why that might be. First of all, it’s not a good look for a PR team to publicly go against conclusions drawn by police and airport security, particularly over an incident that’s made international headlines.
What is disappointing is that a middle ground wasn’t found. There is certainly room for doubt in scenarios like Gatwick and, just yesterday, Heathrow. Particularly given past confusion: plastic bags, bats and everything but have been mistaken for drones in recent times.
Instead of wading into those admittedly murky waters, DJI welcomed the UK Department for Transport’s new regulatory measures.
“The amendments to the Air Navigation Order strike a sensible balance between protecting critical infrastructure such as airports and allowing British businesses and the public at large to enjoy the benefits of drone technology,” said a company statement.
The new rules thoughtfully reflect input on the government’s prior proposals that were provided by many stakeholders, including DJI.
The vast majority of drone pilots fly safely and responsibly, and isolated drone incidents, such as the one at Gatwick, must not be the basis for unnecessarily restricting the legitimate use of this emerging technology. – DJI
“We are pleased to see that the new rectangular restriction zones around airport runway approach paths address the risk at airports in a way similar to the latest version of DJI’s geofencing technology,” said Christian Struwe, Head of Policy at DJI EMEA. “This will provide smarter protection for airplanes in critical areas during takeoff and landing and is in line with established aviation practices.”
DJI also responded positively to the UK government’s decision not go forward with previously proposed age restrictions on remote pilots.
“As an advocate of education in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) fields, DJI appreciates that the UK government does not propose an age restriction for pilots of unmanned aircraft as it supports young people’s early use of technology that can build vital skills for later life,” said DJI.