On the 30th July, new regulations were put into place for drone usage in the UK—an amendment to the Air Navigation Order (2016)—which means drones cannot fly above 400 feet (120m) or within a kilometre radius of any airport boundaries.

In 2017, there were 93 reported drone incidents involving aircraft alone whilst general security breaches on the rise. This new approach comes after reported near misses of drones at Luton and Gatwick airports placing lives genuinely at serious risk.

Recent papers report Chris Woodroofe, Chief Operating Officer at Gatwick Airport, saying: “ We welcome the clarity that the announcement provides as it leaves no doubt that anyone flying a drone must stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields. Drones open-up some exciting possibilities but must be used responsibly. These clear regulations, combined with new surveillance technology, will help the police apprehend and prosecute anyone endangering the travelling public.”

In addition to the new drone laws, the government also plans to expand the use of ‘geo-fencing’ in the UK, which is an invisible shield around buildings or sensitive areas like prisons and airports. This technology works on GPS coordinates, so can be built into a drone and stop it from entering these zones. It is thought drone operators will be told to use apps to plan their flights to ensure they are not entering unsafe or no-fly zones, which will also be visible to other drone users.  

Later developments, yet to be announced, will include immediate intervention if a drone operator fails to follow the rules.  As such, if a drone pilot is suspected of flying unsafely or carrying out any illegal activities with their drone, police will have powers to ground the drone and seize it and any memory cards as evidence.

The incoming provisions will require owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more to register them with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. These requirements will come into force on the 30th November 2019.

The benefits of using drones include the speeding up of deliveries, such as blood transfusions; increased safety by replacing people inspecting nuclear power stations; deliveries; filming; construction or rail safety inspections to name but a few. Therefore, the government want to encourage continued use, but not at the peril of others safety.

Drone operators who ignore the new height and airport boundary restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner which could endanger an aircraft or any person in the aircraft. This could result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

Users who fail to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000. It is hoped that this is a sufficient deterrent, however, many also welcome the enforcement rules proposed to intervene in drone usage if these rules are ignored.

Furthermore, the new drone safety awareness tests mean owners will have to prove that they understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations, meaning the legal onus will be placed securely at their door. This then opens potential for insurance and tighter restrictions in a hope that, without insurance and assessments, people who are not prepared to operate drones carefully will not be able to.

Current rules are still maintained for non-commercial users:

  1. Keep your drone on site
  2. Stay 150 ft away from people and buildings if your drone is equipped with a camera
  3. Keep 500 ft away from crowds and/or built up areas if your drone is equipped with a camera
  4. Avoid flying over or 150 ft near to open areas with more than 1,000 people present
  5. Adhere to their local council’s rules about drone flights in the area
  6. Only fly their drones as and when it is safe to do so
  7. Understand your GDPR requirements too as this is a separate issue that also needs to be considered

If you are a commercial user—understand the laws and have a policy in place which outlines a risk assessment/plan.  It is also important to monitor employee compliance, have insurance in place and monitor GDPR requirements.

The new laws are evolving with the technology, so it is important to be prepared.

By Karen Holden, founder of A City Law Firm