Following the recent disruption to Gatwick Airport’s operations over the Christmas period, we have seen a surge in national press surrounding the use of drones in the UK. Bringing with it a new level of awareness to this emerging technology, many of us have since been asking what can – and will – be done to tackle future misuse of drones in UK airspace?
The Department for Transport (DfT) has now released the UK Government’s official Response to their Consultation, which received over 5000 responses between 26th July 2018 and 17th September 2018 and further confirms an increasing interest in drone technology. Titled “Taking Flight: The Future of Drones in the UK” the report outlines Government plans to ensure drones are used safely and securely in the UK, which includes giving the police new powers to enforce the law, the further use of counter-drone technology and ensuring aviation and passenger safety through the introduction of extended restriction zones around aerodromes.
While these new measures are set to create a tighter legal framework for drone operations, the aim isn’t to restrict but rather to support drone operators and the continued growth of the drone industry whilst demonstrating improved safety for members of the public.
As Baroness Liz Sugg, Aviation Minister explains, “The United Kingdom is a global leader in innovation and emerging technologies and is at the forefront of a rapidly-developing drones market. We want to maintain the UK’s position as the place for technology companies to build their businesses, to invest in new innovation, and to use science and engineering to drive new technologies to reach their full potential.It is vital that we balance maintaining the UK’s world-leading position in aviation safety and security with supporting the development of this emerging industry.”
So, what does the Government Response really mean for drone operators in the UK? We’ve summarised the key points from to get you familiar with the pending changes to UK legislation:
Section A – Foundation of future flights: The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018
Restrictions on small drone flights near aerodromes
On 30 July 2018, the Government made it illegal to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or within 1km of an airport. Since then, there has been strong consensus from airports and airlines that the current 1km restriction does not extend far enough to fully ensure that manned aircraft do not come within close proximity to a drone if the drone is flying at the maximum 400ft. This was highlighted as a concern particularly along landing and take-off paths.
Therefore, a 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. In addition, all drones will be required to ask permission from the airport’s Air Traffic Control to fly within the ATZ e.g. if a commercial operator wishes to inspect a building. The new zone will apply to all small drones weighing more than 250g. The overall restriction zone is displayed in the diagram below:
Minimum Age requirements
The Government supports a minimum operator age with no minimum age for remote pilots. Due to regulations proposed by EASA along with widespread misinterpretation between the two roles, as displayed in the responses to the Consultation, this decision has been deferred until there is clarification and confirmation from EASA regarding future legislation at the European level. Uplift Drones will provide more information once this issue has been resolved and further information published by the Department for Transport.
Section B – A Draft Drones Bill
The Government proposed specific new powers to enable the police to better enforce drone misuse and clamp down on malicious behaviour, following feedback in the previous Consultation that the police were lacking sufficient powers. These powers are particularly crucial, given that the majority of Airprox incidents are as a result of some individual drone pilots breaking current laws. The police will be given the powers outlined below:
- Require the production of evidence in specific circumstances for:
- drone operator registration,
- remote pilot acknowledgement of competency, and
- other requirements for specific flights, such as permission for commercial drone use or exemptions from the CAA from any ANO 2016 articles;
- Obtain information such as the names and addresses of the registered drone operator and/or remote pilot believed to be in charge of the drone in specific circumstances (such as where there is a reasonable suspicion of the commission of an offence).
- If the identity of the drone operator is not provided, the power to obtain the name and address of the person who made the drone available for use by the remote pilot should be given to the police;
- Require a remote pilot to land a drone in specific established offence circumstances;
- 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;
- Seize and retain a drone and/or its associated components which the police reasonably believe has been involved in the commission of an offence on entering and/or searching premises;
- Access information stored electronically on a seized drone and/or its associated components which a constable reasonably suspects:
- is evidence in relation to an offence, or
- has been obtained as a result of the commission of an offence, and
- it is necessary to do so in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, tampered with or destroyed.
- Require any information stored in electronic form on a drone to be produced in a visible and legible form. The power can only be exercised if the police has reasonable grounds for believing that:
- it is evidence in relation to an offence, or
- it has been obtained as a result of the commission of an offence, and
- it is necessary to do so in order to prevent it being concealed, lost, tampered with or destroyed.
Fixed penalty notices (FPNs)
The Government proposed to give the police the power to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for less serious drone-related offences as a way to immediately and effectively enforce as a deterrent to offenders and to reduce pressure on Magistrates’ Courts. FPNs will be attached to the below 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; and
- Flying a drone without a valid acknowledgement of competency, or failure to provide evidence of meeting this competency requirement when requested.
Other offences under the ANO, such as flying a small drone (SUA) with a camera or other data collection device within 50m of people, vehicles or buildings may also be subject to a FPN but only under certain conditions. An FPN may be issued where a constable believes that the offender did not, and did not intend to:
- endanger any other aircraft (whether or not an unmanned aircraft);
- cause any persons harm, harassment, alarm or distress;
- cause any persons occupying any premises nuisance or annoyance relating to their occupation of the premises;
- undermine security or good order in prisons or in other institutions where persons are lawfully detained;
- disturb public order; or
- damage property (including land or buildings).
The Government will ensure a restraint is put in the Bill that restricts the maximum amount FPNs can be, and will ensure that FPNs stay below £100 until such time as an increase is proposed, subject to a review of how effective the penalties below £100 have been.
Flight Information Notification Systems (FINS)
The Government proposed mandating the use of a Flight Information and Notification System(s) (FINS(s)) for drone users. The ambition of this policy was to provide digital, interactive and real time information to improve the safety, security and accountability of drone use. This would be achieved by using an ‘app’, or other computer system, to display air space use and restrictions and real-time traffic information, as well as the ability to notify other airspace users or controllers, such as pilots of commercial aircraft.
The Government has decided not to mandate the use of a FINS at this time, but will nevertheless continue to develop the policy as part of wider aviation strategies, including as part of an unmanned traffic management (UTM) system. Not implementing a requirement to use a FINS at this time will allow for a more cohesive approach to airspace management which recognises all those using our airspace, not just drones.
While this policy is being reviewed, the Government will continue to work closely with the CAA to educate drone users, which is crucial to improve safety. This will be achieved by promoting the use of current drone information ‘apps’ and developing best practice guidelines, to help encourage their use and improve consistency of data. They will engage with industry leaders in order to achieve this, which will feed into shaping future policy in this area. Uplift Drones will provide more information as and when published by the Department for Transport.
Section C – The Future: Counter-drone technology and modelling the uptake of drones
The Government consulted on possible frameworks for the testing and use of counter-drone technology that detects and/or ‘effects’ drones in the UK and technology that could be used to protect sensitive national infrastructure from possible malicious drone incursions in the future. The consultation proposed operational procedures and safeguards that could be applicable for the use of drone detection technology, how to assess the security threat in a live situation, the use of drone effector technology and the testing of both detection and effector technology.
The feedback this consultation has collected supports the Government’s view that action in this area is required, but that there are significant sensitivities and complexities in setting standards for and authorising use of this technology in the UK. Making sure that equipment to appropriately counter unlawful drone use can be safely tested and evaluated within a legal framework is a priority for the Government. The Home Office will therefore expedite detailed policy work to develop an appropriate means of achieving this.
Commercial drone scenario modelling
In this section, the Department for Transport was seeking feedback on some Government produced scenarios of future drone use and estimations of the possible numbers of commercial operators and drones. These scenarios and numbers were used to inform the impact assessment accompanying the Consultation. The charts below show these possible scenarios:
The Department for Transport’s analysts will use the responses to update the assumptions they used to estimate the scenarios outlined and refine these. They will also continue to collect further evidence to develop the scenarios over time. This will allow the Government to fine-tune its understanding of the future growth in drone use in the UK. Uplift Drones will provide more information as and when published by the Department for Transport.
Building on existing regulations, these changes represent the continued action required by the Government to ensure drones are operated safely and securely in the UK by both recreational and commercial operators, without affecting the development of this emerging industry.
“We are determined to both continue to ensure drones are used safely and securely, and to provide the right platform to harness the wide-ranging opportunities and benefits that drones can bring. For those who operate their drones responsibly and safely, we do not want to make it difficult to realise the potential of this technology,” assures Sugg, “In such a rapidly-changing market, we will ensure that the Government takes an agile approach, working with industry and other partners, to help ensure that the regulation supports and anticipates future innovation whilst keeping people safe.”
Following the initial estimations for growth, the new Government legislation – due to be rolled out imminently – comes at a time where additional safety measures can only benefit the UK drone market by accelerating technological advancement across various public and hazardous sectors, including emergency and search and rescue services and the oil & gas industry.
Although there was a wide range of opinion on the Government’s predictive scenarios, it’s clear that all scenarios presented show large rates of growth and, if those large rates of growth take place, there are going to be a lot of UK businesses adding a drone capability to their everyday operations in the coming years. Now is a good time to think about how you can get ahead of your competitors by adopting drones into your commercial operations.
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