UK drone users are to sit safety tests under proposed new law

November 26, 2017 |

The response of governments to the phenomenal rise of the unmanned aerial vehicles across the world has ranged from the tentative to the woeful.  Admittedly it has provided significant challenges to regulators as light, portable drones sold in their thousands are difficult to monitor and where there is a breach of the regulations difficult to prosecute. Governments are also wary of limiting the commercial utility of drones, which can transform transport and delivery, such as delivering blood to hospitals.

The regulation of drones in Australia is spotty at best. The nature of the regulation depends on whether drones are being used for recreational or for business and commercial purposes.  The primary regulator is the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (the “CASA”) . The focus of the regulation is air safety.  Through my posts over the years on drones this sort of regulation is far from adequate.  Drones have the potential, and often do, to interfere with people’s privacy.

The regulation such as it is is poorly enforced.  The complaints process is cumbersome and there are difficulties in identifying the drone and its owner after the fact. CASA could be doing a better job.

In the United Kingdom the Government is to require drone operators to undertake a safety awareness test and the police will have powers to take action for illegal use of drones.  A BBC article provides:

Drone users in the UK will be required to do safety awareness tests as part of planned new legislation on their usage.

Police will also be given new powers to crack down on illegal use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

The government hopes to harness new drone technology which could see them used on oil rigs, in construction, for organ transport and parcel deliveries.

The bill has been welcomed by the pilots’ union, which has warned of near misses involving drones and aircraft.

Balpa said there had been 81 incidents so far this year – up from 71 in 2016 and 29 in 2015.

The union’s general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “These proposals are a step towards the safe integration of drones, but until the new rules are in place the threat of a serious collision remains.”

In July a drone flew directly over the wing of a large passenger jet as it came into land at London’s Gatwick Airport, which a report said had put 130 lives at risk.

The proposed bill – to be published in spring 2018 – would ensure that owners of drones weighing more than 250g would need to register and sit a test.

Owners would be banned from flying them near airports or at heights above 400ft.

Police could also get new powers to ground and seize drones if they suspect they had been used in criminal activity.

Christian Struwe, head of European public policy at drone maker DJI, warned that some of the proposals may be “difficult to police” – for example the height restriction.

But he told BBC Breakfast: “The good thing is that as an industry we are already working on it. We can limit how high they can fly.”

Mr Struwe pointed out that currently there is no “hard limit” on how close drones can fly to airports. “The current wording is that you should stay well clear,” he said.

He welcomed the proposals to limit the “bad use” of drones, adding that it was important people are aware there is regulation they need to follow.

Aside from the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code, he said drone users should respect their neighbours’ right to privacy and steer clear of sensitive areas, such as government buildings.

The transport minster, Lady Sugg, said the government wanted to strike the right balance between harnessing drone potential and ensuring they are not misused.

“We’re bringing forward this legislation in order to ensure that drones can be used safely, whilst also addressing some of the safety and privacy concerns that people have,” she said.

The government is also working with drone manufacturers on technology which produces virtual barriers, to stop the machines operating in restricted areas.

 In the Australian Senate some Senators, mainly Western Australian Senator Glenn Sterle, are animated by the problems posed by drones. The Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport is looking at  drones in its enquiry in Regulatory requirements that impact on the safe use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, Unmanned Aerial Systems and associated systems which is due to report by no later than 6 December 2017.

The terms of reference are:

  1. current and future regulatory requirements that impact on the safe commercial and recreational use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) and associated systems, including consideration of:
    1. Civil Aviation Safety Regulation Part 101,
    2. local design and manufacture of RPAS and associated systems,
    3. importation of RPAS and associated systems,
    4. state and local government regulation, and
    5. overseas developments, including work by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and overseas aviation regulatory jurisdictions;
  2. the existing industry and likely future social and economic impact of RPAS technology;
  3. the international regulatory/governance environment for RPAS technology and its comparison to Australian regulation;
  4. current and future options for improving regulatory compliance, public safety and national security through education, professional standards, training, insurance and enforcement;
  5. the relationship between aviation safety and other regulation of RPAS for example, regulation by state and local government agencies on public safety, security and privacy grounds;
  6. the potential recreational and commercial uses of RPAS, including agriculture, mining, infrastructure assessment, search and rescue, fire and policing operations, aerial mapping and scientific research;
  7. insurance requirements of both private and commercial users/operators, including consideration of the suitability of existing data protection, liability and insurance regimes, and whether these are sufficient to meet growing use of RPAS;
  8. the use of current and emerging RPAS and other aviation technologies to enhance aviation safety; and
  9. any other related matters.

Unfortunately the Committee will probably not be reporting on the privacy intrusive activities and potential of drones.

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