The law surrounding drones has always been a little challenging to understand for beginners, particularly when it comes to what is allowed and what isn’t. Flying below 400 feet and not going within 50 metres of people and private property are just the beginning when it comes to drone laws…
For experienced operators, particularly those that use drones for work, there’s a continual wait for the government to publish their latest updates.
New, additional legislation introduced in March 2019 has tighten the law, especially in respect of flying drones near airports. This includes registering devices that are over a certain weight and size.
The growing popularity of drones is all well and good but it doesn’t come without challenges. The mysterious drones that managed to close Gatwick and Heathrow airports last year only serves to remind us that legislation relating to these devices is still in development and more is yet to come.
The current consultation has been going on for some while and the UK is not the only country that is struggling to get the balance right when it comes to drone law. We already have a number of legal requirements that means drones can’t be flown in populated areas such as towns and cities without permission while there’s also the prickly issue of public privacy when it comes to drone cameras.
If you are using drones in your businesses, the March 2019 changes may create problems, especially if you have to work within the exclusion area surrounding airports. And, if you aren’t sure where your nearest airfield is, you may unwittingly start flying a drone and open yourself up to prosecution.
What Are The Law Changes?
Any pilot of a drone will now have to make sure they stay outside a 5km perimeter surrounding an airport, an increase from the previous 1km. This includes a 5km by 1 km extension covering the ends and beginnings of runways to protect planes taking off and landing.
From the 30th November 2019, if you operate a drone that has a weight between 250g and 25Kg, you will need to undertake an online safety test and register with the Civil Aviation Authority before you are allowed to operate it. If you fail to do this after the start date, you could be liable to a fine of up to £1,000 if you are caught.
The police will have their powers extended from November 2019. This comes mostly in light of drone interference associated with airports but is also related to the potential for criminal activity such as flying drugs and other contraband into prisons.
If a drone is thought to have been used in an offence, the police can obtain a warrant to search your property for evidence. They can also now give on the spot fines if you have committed a minor offence such keeping the drone in Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) or refusing to land a drone when asked to do so.
If you are already an experienced drone operator, you’ll have expected these changes and won’t be surprised at the new additions to the law. Most understand that flying too close to an airport can be dangerous to flights, just be aware that the perimeter has now been increased quite considerably.
Registration and taking the online safety test may give rise to some issues. Neither of these are up and running yet though the CAA says everything will be available by the end of October 2019. How effective this will be remains to be seen.
The Future of Drone Legislation
This is almost definitely not the end of drone legislation in the UK or across the rest of the world. For instance, it seems likely that an age restriction will come in at some point. There’s also talk of developing an app for professional drone users so that they can keep authorities informed of where they are flying and when.
There’s no doubt that the use of drones has increased dramatically over the last few years. They are utilised by film companies, tourist boards, surveyors, the agriculture industry and even for delivering packages through companies like Amazon. The scope is set to widen as drones become increasingly sophisticated.
All legislation being introduced has to strike a fine balance between making users, particularly in respect of commercial drones, more accountable while not impeding their operation. It’s a difficult compromise to achieve and may take a few years yet before it’s fully fleshed out. For drone users, it’s a question of keeping up to date with the latest changes and adjusting behaviour accordingly.
Please have a look at the Governments: Domestic Threat of Drones
from Defence Committee and Science and Technology Committee, on Tuesday 11 June 2019
there is also a link to the transcript of the meeting