The global drone market is worth over £102bn. The UK government has announced new changes to drone legislation, including plans to introduce drone registration and safety courses for UAV owners. In a move to improve accountability and encourage owners to act responsibly, drone registration will be obligatory for anyone in possession of an aircraft weighing more than 250g.
Findings by the Department for Transport (DfT), British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) and the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) have revealed drones weighing 400g could damage the windscreens of helicopters in particular. While airline windscreens were found to be more resistant, there has been a number of near misses reported between drones and planes.
An actual collision is, thankfully, yet to occur. In order to keep things this way, the government has introduced mandatory drone registration so that owners can “prove that they understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations.”
The government also plans to bring forward and expand the use of ‘geo-fencing’ in the UK that acts like an invisible shield around buildings or sensitive areas. This could create no-fly zones, which are programmed into drones using GPS coordinates, around prisons or airports. Earlier this month, London’s Gatwick Airport was forced to briefly close its runway following a drone spotting.
While stressing that it is vital the UK makes the most of the emerging global drone market, the Aviation Minister, Lord Callanan, said: “Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones.
“Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.
“But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones, introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”
What is the current drone code?
Those who endanger the safety of an aircraft through the use of drones could face a five year prison sentence.
The UK won't be the first country to introduce a drone register. The US introduced one for non-commercial pilots in December 2015 and so far more than 770,000 people with UAVs have signed up for the scheme. The registration included a $5 (£3.84) fee. The government in Ireland also introduced a drone register in 2015, for those with aircraft weighing more than 1kg.
Critics fear the drone register will be pointless unless fines or consequences are fully enforced on those who do not comply. As part of Freedom of Information Act requests to the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealed that in more than 12 months it had not brought any enforcement action against people registered on its drone database.
Compiled by drones and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) retailer DronesDirect.co.uk, the Drone Usage Report 2017 revealed 61% of drone owners would welcome a compulsory flying exam before taking to the skies with their gadget as they think it would increase public safety. In addition, the vast majority of users (65%) also say they would be willing to have their drone electronically registered to make it easier to identify the owner if the gadget was lost or stolen – in fact just 13% are against this idea.
It is very early days for the UK’s drone register, but hopefully the scheme will succeed in preventing any further accidents.