UK drone pilots will soon have to register their drones and sit safety awareness tests, as the Department for Transport seeks to better regulate growing drone use and react to increasing safety concerns.
The proposal would put UK regulations for hobbyist pilots beyond what is currently in place in the United States. Owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more will have to register details of their aircraft and sit a safety awareness test.
The UK government believes that the move will improve accountability and encourage owners to act responsibly.
There have been several incidents thought to involve drones across the UK, including near-misses at airports, diverted flights at London Gatwick and the delivery of contraband to prisons.
Read more: Drone Blamed for Disrupted Flights at Gatwick Airport
Registration and Safety Tests for UK Pilots
Users may be able to register online or through apps, under plans being explored by the government, although transport minister Chris Grailing admitted that “the nuts and bolts are still being ironed out”.
The move follows safety research that concluded drones could damage the windscreens of helicopters.
In addition, a new drone safety awareness test means owners will have to prove that they understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations.
Commercial pilots in the UK currently have to receive a Permissions for Commercial Operations (PfCO) from the Civil Aviation Authority. The process includes training, a written test and a flight test. It’s not yet clear if these new measures – particularly the safety test – will be applied beyond hobbyist pilots.
Read more: Media Coverage in the Drone Industry: Perspective Needed
UK Government Looks to Manufacturers for Support
The government also plans to bring forward and expand the use of ‘geo-fencing’ in the UK that acts like an invisible shield around buildings or sensitive areas. The technology, which works on GPS coordinates, is built into the drone and stops it from entering zones such as prison or airport space. The most obvious example of this is DJI’s Geo system.
Aviation Minister Lord Callanan said, in a statement:
The UK is at the forefront of an exciting and fast growing drones market and it is important we make the most of this emerging global sector.
Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones. Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.
But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones, introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.
These measures come after a consultation looking at ways to make drone use safer while maximizing their potential.
Research shows drones weighing 400 grams could damage helicopter windscreens
Findings by the Department for Transport (DfT), British Airline Pilots’ Association and the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) published today in a summary report, reveal drones weighing 400 grams could damage the windscreens of helicopters.
However, airliner windscreens were found to be much more resistant. It would take a heavier drone of around 2 kilograms to critically damage an airliner windscreen, and only if the airliner is flying at a high speed; not during take-off and landing.
While it’s refreshing to see regulations brought in on the back of research into the potential dangers of drones, some UK pilots may feel that the registration boundary of 250 grams is still fairly arbitrary.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the research done in an upcoming article.
The UK government worked with the CAA to develop a new drone code launched last year which has 6 key principles:
- always keep your drone in sight
- stay below 400 feet (120 metres) to comply with the drone code
- every time you fly your drone you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- keep the right distance from people and property
- you are responsible for each flight
- stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields