The news that drones have been sighted over Gatwick runways and caused severe disruption to the airport and passengers, is the latest in a series of incidents of irresponsible handling and use of drones.
As prices come down, it is likely that a drone or Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), will feature on many a Christmas list this year. Drones used for personal/recreational use may have a more limited range of flight than those for commercial use. However, as a result of the Government’s hardened stance on the use of the UAVs and recurring threats to safety in the air and privacy on the ground, it is an opportunity to review the laws around the use of drones.
In 2017 the Department of Transport reported that there were 89 incidents involving the use of drones with aircrafts. In a bid to try and tackle this, the Government introduced legislation which came into effect on 30 July 2018 implementing new safety measures. Specifically, anyone who uses a drone for personal use is no longer allowed to fly it over 400 feet (120 metres) above the ground, or within one kilometre of airport boundaries and they must be kept 150 metres away from congested areas and organised open-air assemblies of more than 1,000 people.
Failure to comply with these new laws could see the drone user charged with ‘recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft’ and face a fine of up to £2,500 and/or up to five years in prison. However the Government has not stopped there, and from 30 November 2019 all owners of drones which are at least 250g will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority and take an online safety test in order to fly their drones. Failure to comply with this registration procedure and the online safety test could see the avid personal drone user face fines up to £1,000.
As with most forms of technology, the benefits of drones for commercial purposes have become recognised and the Government has had to respond accordingly. Anyone who uses a drone for commercial purposes, whether this be multinational broadcasters capturing the largest golf tournament or the average YouTuber monetising their channel, must have the correct accreditation or risk getting a heavy fine.
There is a common misconception that to fly a drone for commercial purposes requires a ‘drone licence’. Instead, the flyer of a drone is required to have an accreditation called a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO). This involves costs of £1,000 to attend the PfCO course, £247 to register with the regulatory body and £185 annual fee to retain the PfCO. The course, which is both rigorous and demanding, is designed to ensure that those wishing to fly their drone commercially do so in a safe and legitimate manner.
One of the largest benefits that drones have to offer in an ever expanding commercial market is the use in the agricultural sector. The use of drones can be beneficial for applying pesticides and fertilisers to specific areas, tracking storms and monitoring the air conditions for pollution etc. Indeed, the UK was the first nation in the world to successfully plant and tend a 4.5 tonne crop of barley, by using drones and other automated machinery, without actually setting foot in the field. Whilst one might argue that this is going to pose a risk to jobs in the agricultural sector, it is an exciting development in technology which could revolutionise farmers’ businesses.