On 7 January 2019, The UK Department of Transport (DoT) released a report after having surveyed the industry in the latter half of last year. This comes fresh in the wake of the incidents at Gatwick and Heathrow in December 2018 when drones were spotted in the respective runway vicinities, and resulted in the loss of millions of pounds of revenue. It can be assumed that new UK drone regulations will soon be announced, as clearly indicated by the report.
The proposed changes are in line with what is currently happening elsewhere in the world. Click here to view our discussion on what is happening in Australia.
More than 5,000 responses to the survey were considered, and became instrumental for the following changes to be implemented and thoughts to be developed further:
1. Airport Safety Buffer Restriction
Article 94B CAP1687 dd 30 July 2018 defined the safety boundary for drones weighing less than 7kg to be 1 km from the perimeter of “protected” airports (mostly those having Air Traffic Control Zones (ATZ’s) allocated to it). In addition, the article defines that Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) should be maintained, and that drones should be manoeuvred away from manned aircraft. VLOS is not restricted in the UK (in many other countries it is restricted to be less than 500m).
Drones weighing more than 7kg are not allowed within the ATZ, which commonly have a 2.5 nm (4.6 km) radius around the Aerodrome Reference Point (ARP).
In most other countries, the safety boundary around airports are set at 5km. India uses 8km around bigger airports, and in South Africa it is set at 10km.
The UK regulation will soon be adjusted to provide for the same 4.6 km safety boundary for all drones weighing more than 250g. In addition, the runway approach paths will enjoy additional protection through a safety zone measuring 5km by 1km from the threshold (see illustration below), also applicable to all drones heavier than 250g.
2. Minimum Age Requirements
CAP1687 did not specify minimum age requirements, and the matter has not been resolved yet. In the DoT report, the intention is that a minimum age (possibly 18) be specified for the operator. In addition, the industry is widely divided about specifying a minimum age for the pilot. Some say they should be mature and responsible, whilst other are reluctant to exclude youngsters who could possibly gain by early exposure to drone technology. The debate is ongoing at this stage, and might be influenced be recent developments in the EASA regulation to specify 16 and 18 years of age, depending on the weight of the drone.
It is worth mentioning that existing regulation already provides for competency tests towards licencing of drone pilots. This will become effective on 30 November 2019. Such tests are already in use in the USA- click here to see an overview of the scope of the syllabus.
3. The Role of Model Aircraft Flying Associations
The DoT report acknowledges the importance of the role of model aircraft clubs. Two important exceptions that have been previously granted to members will prevail: 1) Flying above 400’ and 2) First Person View waiver (both these exceptions is well qualified in the regulation). Consultation between the UK CAA and the Clubs might intensify during 2019.
4. Powers to the Police
Legislation is forthcoming empowering the Police to:
- Request to view drone pilot licensing and other documentation required by the law, and obtain other needed information;
- Require a pilot to land a drone under specified circumstances, and
- Search and seize drones and data believed to relate to illegal practices (this is well qualified however, and a warrant would be needed).
A Fixed Penalty Notice system to support the legal process is currently being drafted.
5. Flight Information and Notification System (FINS)
The DoT opted not to follow the example of India to implement a FINS at present, however, it would continue to pursue the following goals through developing the broader regulation network:
- Obtaining real-time airspace information;
- Checking the suitability of the surrounding airspace at any given time, and
- Provide notification of intended drone flights.
6. Counter Drone Technology
The DoT will continue along its present path to investigate Counter Drone Technology. However, it is much aware of the sensitivities and concerns about the impact of such technology on legitimate drone operations.
7. The Future of the Industry
The DoT finally prompted for opinions from industry about its possible future growth. Forecasts remain highly speculative and one possibility is that the number of commercial drones in the UK may exceed 100,000, and that the number of commercial operators might be in the vicinity of 17,000 by 2024.
The new UK drone regulations that has been implemented and are current can be viewed in a user document containing New UK Drone Regulations distributed by the UK CAA. Dadsndrones.com will publish further updates as the regulation develops. Please leave us your comments below!