Drone owners in the United Kingdom with drones that weigh over 250 grams (.55 lbs) will now have to register their drones and take a safety awareness test under new regulations announced this week.
Up to now, drones had to weigh 20 kilograms (44 lbs) for registration to be required, so lowering the weight requirement to 250 grams is a significant change.
These new rules were hurried into being following several dangerous near misses with rogue drones at U.K. airports over the last several months. Instances of drones being used to deliver drugs, cell phones, and other contraband to prisoners have also fueled the creation of these new regulations.
From January to April alone, 22 incidents involving rogue drones (or possible rogue drones) and commercial airplanes were investigated by the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority’s Airprox Board.
In none of these instances were the police able to locate the owners of the drones in question. The thinking is that registration will help curtail the behavior, and enable punishment when it does happen.
Although some of the rules have been announced, there is no clear timeline in place regarding a rollout for instructions on how the rules will be enforced, and the U.K. Department of Transport has admitted that the nuts and bolts still need to be ironed out.
Although some drone owners in the U.K. have expressed concern about these new rules, DJI was quick to issue a statement in favor of the regulations, which they said sound “like reasonable common sense.”
What We Know about the New Rules
Many of the details are still fuzzy about what the specific rules will be, and the U.K. government has said it’s still exploring the best legislative options for introducing these new rules.
That being said, here’s what we do know:
- Drone operators flying drones that weight 250 grams or more will have to register their drone(s) and pass a safety awareness test that proves they understand U.K. safety, security, and privacy regulations.
- Geo-fencing will be expanded and implemented throughout the U.K. to prevent flights in restricted airspace, such as at airports and prisons. Specific plans for implementation have not been announced.
- To enable geo-fencing and provide more airspace information to drone pilots, an authoritative source for UK airspace data has been promised.
- Transport Secretary Chris Graying has made it clear that he thinks anyone operating a drone near the flight path of a commercial airplane should face serious consequences. We have yet to learn what those specific consequences will be, but it’s clear that penalties will be increased and new punishments are in the works for reckless drone pilots.
“By registering drones and introducing safety awareness tests to educate users, we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”
– U.K. Aviation Minister Lord Martin Callanan
A Global Problem
Rogue drones at airports is a problem authorities are facing all around the world these days.
Not too long ago DJI announced a bounty of $145,000 for information that would help catch rogue drone operator(s) who had kept 100 flights grounded at an airport in China’s Sichuan province. The incident affected the travel of 10,000 people, all of whom faced delays and cancelled flights due to the presence of a rogue DJI drone, making it unsafe for the planes to take off.
Just this week the video shown below went viral because of the sheer recklessness demonstrated by the operator, who can be seen flying dangerously close to airplanes landing at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. (He was so oblivious about the dangers of what he was doing that he proudly posted his video to YouTube, making it easy for authorities to track him down.)
But airports aren’t the only place where rogue drones can threaten lives.
Drones have interfered with wildfire operations in the U.S., grounding manned aircraft devoted to fighting fires and preventing fire fighting aviators from doing their jobs.
Anti-drone technology has been developing more and more rapidly alongside the development of drones themselves, and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems hold out the promise of creating safely regulated skies.
But many of these tools are a few steps behind existing technology. And it also seems to be the case that, for every tool created to help control rogue drones, a new, illicit counter-tool pops up that makes it ineffective—take the Russian company who helps jailbreak DJI drones to trick their geo-fencing, and make flights in restricted airspace possible.
A lot more work remains in the U.K. to flesh out their sUAS regulations, but we agree with DJI that these new restrictions seem reasonable and straight forward. We’ll continue to report as drone regulations develop in the United Kingdom.