The UK government is to introduce new laws that will restrict all drones from being flown above 400ft (122m) and within 0.6 miles (1km) of airport boundaries.
The changes follow a year-on-year increase in the report of drone incidents with aircraft, which amounted to 93 in 2017. The measures are expected to reduce the possibility of damage to windows and engines of aircraft and helicopters. The changes will come into effect on 30 July 2018 as an amendment to the Air Navigation Order.
The new laws will also require owners of drones weighing 0.5lb (250g) or more to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and for drone pilots to take an online safety test to ensure the skies are safe from irresponsible flyers. These requirements will come into force on 30 November 2019. Drone operators will also eventually be required to use apps so they can access information needed to ensure any planned flight can be made safely and legally.
Baroness Sugg, Aviation Minister, said: “We are seeing fast growth in the numbers of drones being used, both commercially and for fun. Whilst we want this industry to innovate and grow, we need to protect planes, helicopters and their passengers from the increasing numbers of drones in our skies. These new laws will help ensure drones are used safely and responsibly.”
Chris Woodroofe, chief operating officer at Gatwick Airport (where traffic was disrupted by a drone incident last summer), said: “We welcome the clarity that today’s 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.”
Meanwhile, the British Airline Pilot’s Association (BALPA) has asked for the restrictions to go much further. It says that while the new laws include restrictions on drones being flown in the vicinity of an airport boundary, aircraft will already be lower than the limits when they make approaches to airports.
BALPA flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, said: “We’re pleased the Government is taking near-misses seriously and making changes to the law, but it is crucial that these go further to avoid a potential catastrophe. We hoped we would see something similar to the regulations introduced in Australia, which state that unmanned operations must not be flown within 3 nautical miles (around 5.5km) of an airfield. BALPA is not anti-drone and we understand the commercial considerations in not making laws too restrictive, but a hobbyist drone has no business being flown near an airport and allowing this to happen increases the risk of a catastrophic collision.”
The government believes that drones have the potential to bring great benefits to the country as they aid inspection national infrastructure including railways and power stations. Consultancy firm PwC predicts the industry could be worth £42bn in the UK by 2030.
Picture: Drone operators will soon face additional restrictions on flying near airports. (HM Government)