In Depth

The new rules on owning a drone

Operators risk £1,000 fine if they fail to register aircrafts and take theory test by 30 November

Drone users in the UK have until the end of this month to pass an online theory test about legal and safe usage as part of a push to prevent the aircraft from causing chaos in the skies.

Under the new regulations, owners of drones or model aircraft weighing more than 250g (8.8oz) must also register their details with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) by 30 November. Registering will cost around £9 a year - and anyone who flies a drone without meeting the new requirements could face a £1,000 fine, reports The Independent.

The Civil Aviation Authority estimates that about 130,000 people will have to pay and hand over their details in the coming weeks, adds The Guardian.

A statement on the Dronesafe.uk website, where operators can register their drones, explains that “our objective is not to stop drone users having fun; it’s to help ensure that drone users have the information that will help ensure that whilst they’re having fun, they’re not posing a risk to any other aircraft or people”.

The potential safety threats associated with drones have been under debate since London’s Gatwick Airport suffered major disruptions when such crafts was repeatedly flown near the runway over the Christmas period last year.

Dr Rob Hunter, head of flight safety at airline pilots’ union Balpa, says that encouraging responsible drone use is “desperately needed to ensure a collision between an aircraft and a drone is avoided”.

The Guardian reports that “in a bid to soften the blow of mandatory tests and fees for owners, the CAA is launching an accompanying ‘drones reunited’ site, citing research showing that more than one in four owners claims to have lost a drone”.

If you’re a drone owner - or are likely to become one once Christmas rolls around - here’s an overview of the new laws.

Police powers

In addition to the new registration regulations, the new legislation expands police powers to allow officers to land drones and require users to produce the appropriate documentation.

The BBC reports that officers “will also be able to search premises and seize drones - including the electronic data stored within the device - where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured”.

Police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices carrying fines of up to £100 for minor offences such as failing to comply when instructed to land a drone or not showing the required registration.

Proximity

Flying close to an airport in a manner that might cause disruptions is already illegal, but the Government this year expanded the area around an airport in which drone operation will be banned.

Since March, it has been illegal to fly a drone within 3.1 miles (5km) of an airport, up from 0.6 miles (1km).

Online drone training and news site UAV Coach says that for drones fitted with cameras, there are also “a number of additional limitations surrounding where you can fly it, and how close you can fly it to other uninvolved people or objects”.

“In order to be able to fly within these areas, or closer than the minimum distances that are in the regulations, you must obtain prior permission from the CAA to do so,” the site continues.

The Government is also testing a range of counter-drone technology such as geofencing, which “is built into the drones themselves and uses GPS coordinates to stop the devices from entering specific zones such as airport airspace”, reports Trusted Reviews.

Will the new rules be enough?

The Telegraph reports that there is no limit to the number of times a person can sit the theory test, and no minimum age requirement, but notes that “tighter regulations could make parents think twice before buying their children drones for Christmas”.

The Balpa union’s Hunter has welcomed the new system, saying: “We have been calling for drone registration for some time now as we believe that in the same way that other vehicles – be it those in the air or on the ground – are registered, so should drones.”

However, Simon Dale of FPV UK, the national association for radio control model plane and drone flying, said the new regulations would “do nothing” because “bad actors will not register their drones”.

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