The Government plans to introduce new measures designed to ensure that the successful uptake of drones is matched by strong safeguards to protect the public. Measures out for consultation as of Wednesday 21 December include the mandatory registration of new drones, tougher penalties for illegal operation near no-fly zones, new signage for such zones at sensitive sites including airports and prisons and making drones electronically identifiable such that the owner’s details can be passed to the police if they’re spotted breaking the law.
Importantly, the consultation will also consider whether there’s an overriding need for a new criminal offence to be introduced specifically to penalise the misuse of drones.
The Government is determined to make the most of this emerging technology, which is estimated to be worth upwards of £100 billion come 2025, but ministers are absolutely clear that drone solutions will only be a success if they’re safe.
On that note, Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon explained: “Drones have enormous economic potential. They’re already being used by the Emergency Services, transport and energy solution providers and conservation groups to improve their services, respond to incidents and save lives. While most drone users are law-abiding citizens and have good intentions, some operators are not aware of the rules, or otherwise choose to break them, subsequently putting public safety, privacy and security at risk. The Government is taking a common sense approach towards tackling such behaviour.”
Current regulations balance clear rules on safety with strong penalties for misuse. Those companies using drones for commercial purposes require permission to do so in order to ensure the technology’s operated in a responsible manner.
Tim Johnson, policy director at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), stated: “Our priority is the safe operation of drones. We cannot underestimate the importance of understanding how to use drones safely and responsibly. The new CAA Drone Code, which forms part of our wider drone awareness campaign, is designed to help protect the safety of the wider aviation industry. Drones have significant potential for driving benefits across a range of sectors, and we encourage anyone with an interest in this area to respond to the consultation.”
Andrew Sage, RPAS director at air traffic control company NATS, responded: “NATS fully supports the development of the drone industry and is committed to creating a safe and efficient airspace environment that meets the needs of both manned and unmanned aircraft operators alike. We would encourage all users of the UK’s airspace to respond to the consultation.”
The CAA’s own Safety Code and the Drone Safe website, in addition to the recently-released NATS safety app for drone users entitled ‘Drone Assist’, are vitally important tools in encouraging safe and legal drone use.
Ultimately, it’s only by understanding all perspectives and working together that, collectively, we’ll be able to find the solutions that witness successful manned and unmanned aviation industries operating safely in tandem right across the UK.