New laws being introduced by the Department for Transport in tandem with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will restrict all drones from flying above 400 feet and within one kilometre of airport boundaries. Following a year-on-year increase in the reporting of drone incidents with aircraft – with 89 of them in 2017 – these measures will reduce the possibility of damage occurring to the windows and engines of planes and helicopters. The changes will come into effect on 30 July.
The new laws will also require those owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more to register with the CAA and for drone pilots to take an online safety test in order to ensure that the UK’s skies are safe from irresponsible flyers. These requirements will come into force on 30 November next year.
The changes are part of the future of mobility Grand Challenge laid out in the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Ensuring that drones are being used safely will pave the way for these devices to play an increasingly important role in society.
Drones have the potential to bring great benefits to the UK. They already help inspect national infrastructure like our railways and power stations, and are even aiding disaster relief by speeding up the delivery of blood.
The CAA and airports will now have the power to make exceptions to these restrictions in specific circumstances.
Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg said: “We are seeing fast growth in the numbers of drones being used, both commercially and for fun. While we want this industry to innovate and grow, we also need to protect planes, helicopters and their passengers from the increasing numbers of drones in our skies. These new laws will help to ensure that drones are used safely and responsibly.”
Chris Woodroofe, chief operating officer at Gatwick Airport, said: “We welcome the clarity that this announcement provides as it leaves no doubt that anyone flying a drone must stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields. Drones open up some exciting possibilities, but this technology must be used responsibly. These clear regulations, combined with new surveillance technology, will help the police apprehend and prosecute anyone endangering the travelling public.”
Drones Bill to be published
In addition to these measures, a draft Drones Bill will be published this summer and afford the police more tailored powers to intervene on the spot if drones are being used inappropriately.
Drone operators will also eventually be required to use apps such that they can access the information needed to make sure any planned flight can be made safely and legally.
The new laws are being made via an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016.
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.
There has been a significant increase in the number of commercial permissions issued by the CAA in the last year. The number of active commercial drone licences increased from 2,500 to 3,800 in 2017, representing a year on year growth of 52%. There has been a year on year increase in drone incidents, with 71 in 2016 rising to 89 in 2017.
A recently released PwC report highlighted that the uptake of drones could be worth up to £41.7 billion to the UK’s GDP by 2030.