To ensure the safety of both drone users and the general public, UK drone laws continue to evolve. The government is currently in the process of preparing a new Drones Bill, and there are some significant UK drone law updates to be aware of, if you wish to avoid fines and potential prison sentences.
As a result of the disruption caused by drones at Gatwick and Heathrow airports in late 2018 and early 2019, the government decided to extend the area around airports and runways within which drones are banned from being flown. As of 13th March 2019, it is illegal to fly a drone within 5km of an airport − up from 1km previously.
“The new restriction zone will include an airport’s aerodrome traffic zone (ATZ) as well as 5km by 1km extensions from the end of runways to protect take-off and landing paths,” Baroness Sugg announced. “All drones will be restricted from flying within this zone unless appropriate permission is granted.”
Furthermore, the government said: “The new restriction zone will include rectangular extensions from the end of runways measuring 5km long by 1km wide to better protect take-off and landing paths.”
From 1st October 2019, the new drone registration scheme will open, and by 30th November 2019, drone operators will be required to have registered their device(s) with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. Anyone who fails to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000, as these become legal requirements under the Air Navigation Order (ANO).
Police are also being given extra powers in November 2019. Officers will be able to “enter and/or search premises, with a warrant, where there is reasonable suspicion that there is a drone and/or its associated components which the police reasonably suspects of having been involved in the commission of an offence”.
They will also be able to issue fixed penalty notices (FPN) up to £100 for minor drone-related offences, “as a way to immediately and effectively enforce as a deterrent to offenders and to reduce pressure on Magistrates’ Courts”.
A drone user could face an FPN for committing any of the following offences:
- Not producing registration documentation, and/or proof of registration for drones between 250g and up to and including 20kg in mass, at the request of a police constable
- Not producing evidence of any other relevant permissions required by legislation, for example if you are a commercial drone operator or have an exemption from the CAA from an ANO 2016 article
- Not complying with a police officer when instructed to land a drone
- Flying a drone without a valid acknowledgement of competency, or failure to provide evidence of meeting this competency requirement when requested
It has been common knowledge for some time that the government is pushing for work on ‘geo-fencing’ technology to be brought forward. The technology is built into drones themselves, and uses GPS co-ordinates to stop the devices from entering specific zones, such as the grounds of a prison or airport airspace.
“The Home Office will also begin to test and evaluate the safe use of a range of counter-drone technology in the UK,” is the government’s official line.
“This crucial technology will detect drones from flying around sensitive sites, including airports and prisons, and develop a range of options to respond to drones, helping to prevent a repeat of incidents such as that recently experienced at Gatwick.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) says it and the CAA are also working to increase public awareness of drone laws, and they’ve written to airports and local authorities to “help to educate passengers and the public about responsible drone use”.
If you are planning to use a drone for commercial work, check out the CAA’s guide. As mentioned above, UK drone laws have been subject to regular changes, and further changes can be anticipated in the near future.
It was only as recently as 30th July 2018 that the government made it illegal to fly a drone above 400ft or within 1km of airport boundaries. While the former remains in place, the latter was quickly deemed to be insufficient.
Anyone who flouts that 400ft rule could be charged with “recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft”, and face a fine of up to £2,500 or up to five years in prison.
There will also be an annual charge for all drone registrations.
“The Government has provided a significant amount of taxpayer funding to cover the costs of developing the new drone registration scheme up until 1st October 2019,” the CAA explains. “From that date onwards, the costs of running the scheme will be borne by those who use it under the ‘user pays’ principle. This is because as a statutory body, the CAA has to recover its costs from those it regulates.”
The CAA says it will make a final decision on the registration scheme charges by 16th September 2019.
It’s also possible that drone users will one day be required to use an ‘app’ to notify authorities and other drone users that they’re going to fly a UAV at a particular location at a given time, ahead of the event.
The DfT says that drone operators will also eventually have to use ‘apps’ that ensure they always have access to safety guidance, although it isn’t yet clear how it plans to enforce this.
Operators are required to keep their drone in line of sight at all times, and be aware of designated “no fly zones”, which most notably include airports and prisons.
In addition, registration with the CAA is necessary if the drone is being used for “commercial purposes”.
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