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What do the proposed revised UK drone laws mean to me?
06.01.18

What do the proposed revised UK drone laws mean to me?

Aleks Kowalski
What do the proposed revised UK drone laws mean to me?

On 30 May 2018, the Government laid down some new rules regarding drones in the UK. Some of them come into effect 30th July 2018, others 30th November 2019. But what’s going to change practically?

Legal Aspects

The requirement to fly no more than 400ft in height above the ground directly below the drone at any time is already part of the Drone Code and has been clarified many times in writing; the new change merely cements that requirement into law (as an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016).  Interestingly, it already is the law if your drone is heavier than 7kg!

However, there are some exemptions to that, namely commercial operators who already have historic permissions to operate at a height greater than 400ft, and First Person View recreational flying that retain their exemption of 1000ft.

The biggest category of users that will be affected are recreational users below 7kg who until now were able to fly higher than this height under a duty of safety and care. But with the increase in Airproxes from 29 in 2015, to 71 in 2016, and 92 last year this regulation has been deemed ineffective.

Furthermore, the Drone Code also already advises drone users to 'keep well away from aircraft, airports and airfields' but the new law now puts a 1km figure on the latter, which is the aerodrome boundary or perimeter fence. Interestingly early proposals had been proposing up to 3-5km away, so this segment has been markedly watered down... Good luck working that one out on a day to day basis!

Some of the consequences will be that drone apps will have to become more accurate, as in the forthcoming drone bill to be published for consultation later in the year, it will become mandatory requirement to use a Safety App. 

Permissions to operate within the vicinity of an aerodrome will apply to all users, something commercially responsible operators would do as a matter of course.

If you're wondering what classifies as an 'airport' for the purposes of the new law, then it's any aerodrome with an Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) - that's a total of 167 in the UK!

Consequences

These are the 2 imminent changes, but what are the consequences of this?

Who is going to deal with all this? The CAA passed the policing of the laws to the Police, the Police on the floor don't have sufficient knowledge of this area nor time, with continued restrictions on resources.  Until flights are detected and monitored every time, what will an enforcement strategy become?

Will the new rules make any difference especially as 1km from an airport is difficult for anyone to judge and whilst ATZs are covered, what about the airfields without that luxury of having an ATZ?  The rules need tightening up quickly and without ambiguity for we cannot expect every drone operator to find this information, especially as the situation remains as it was 4 years ago where most employees of the major high street suppliers of drones are still unaware of the rules and potential hazards to aviation safety.

This then leads us to the final aspects due in 2019, that of registration for >250g drones, influenced in no small part by the USA regulations and also the BALPA/MAA/DfT empirical testing carried out in 2017. The videos of these tests remain classified, but as someone who has seen them, I can assure you they raise important questions about what is acceptable.

It is hoped for that the education and training needed for all entrants is given at Point Of Sale and that responsible organisations can provide this. The CAA are defining this as an acknowledgement of competency

I have written a 5-part narrative on the future of drone training, as the elephant in the room is future EASA regulations, which may overrride some of the proposals announced will reduce the NQE to a footnote and provide not stepped approach from the hobbyist to a highly specialised industrial operator flying BVLoS.

Although the governments explanatory note states that only minimal impact on the private, voluntary or public sectors is foreseen – the volume of noise made by recreationalists since this announcement suggest that there is a large part of the grassroots community who are not being heard, and if we are to make the drone industry worth anything like the recent PwC report of £42bn (itself taken in part from the EASA Drones Outlook study) then all stakeholders need to be made to feel welcome.

On a company note, we recognised this change coming to the industry and as a result made the decision to offer the Air Law segment of our award-winning course free to all of our users. I’m happy to say that is still the case, as we believe in education is the key for any drone operator to enjoy flying their drone, at whatever level they choose to do that.

Editor’s Note.

Consortiq are a UK National Qualified Entity (NQE) and the training lead on the USA AUVSI Trusted Operator Program (TOP) Committee, alongside their CQNet software and consultancy services. If you would like to explore what they can offer to your organization, email: info@consortiq.com.


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