Drones: not just for Christmas

Posted by Tom Walker, 3rd December 2019
Those in search of Christmas gifts would do well to be aware that, as of 30 November 2019, new provisions came into force, which could make your present a little more burdensome than you imagined!

The regulation of drones and ‘small unmanned aircraft’ (SUAs) is a hot regulatory topic. Indeed, the safe integration of SUAs into international air traffic management systems remains a major challenge, on both a technical and regulatory level.

If the challenge is met safely, then current projections are that SUA and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use could save as much as £16bn, adding £42bn to GDP in the UK, with over 600,000 drone sector jobs (See Taking Flight: The Future of Drones in the UK (July 2018).

The UK Government has engaged in a wide range of consultations and consumer-focused research assessing public attitudes to the use of SUAVs, which have underpinned current regulatory developments.  For example, of the UK non-drone using public, 76% expected that food delivery using SUAVs would be possible within 8.3 years; 66% expected cargo flights within 11.8 years; and 64% expected passenger transport within 13.6 years.  

However, drone use by criminals has also soared – particularly in relation to the smuggling of contraband into prisons.  Many will also recall the massive air traffic disruption at Gatwick Airport, apparently caused by ‘drones’.

With a view to meeting some of these immediate challenges, the UK has set about amending the backbone of aviation regulation – the Air Navigation Order 2016. A July 2018 tweak to this Order extended distance restrictions for the use of SUAs around aerodromes, and this was extended further in March 2019.  The distance calculations are complex, and if you intend to use your SUA anywhere near an aerodrome, you should seek specialist advice to avoid a criminal prosecution.

More particularly, from 30 November 2019, operators of drones weighing between 250g and 20kg will be required to register and drone pilots will be required to take an online competency test.  Users should also be familiar with the ‘Drone Code’, and apps such as ‘Drone Aware’.

The registration requirements represent a key regulatory aerodrome safeguarding measure – they are aimed to provide an enforcement tool to authorities seeking to prevent and track drone users operating near aerodromes by ensuring SUAs are traceable, and no doubt will deter prison smuggling operations too.

So bear in mind the new Regulations before you present that gift: a drone is not just for Christmas – and brings with it a host of new legal commitments.

If you need any legal advice regarding drones, please contact Tom Walker or another member of our Health & Safety team.

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