flying drone

Mandatory drone registration in the UK considered due to rising near-misses

The Department for Transport (DfT) is consulting on implementing mandatory registration for new drones in a bid to crack down on reckless users.

The increasing popularity of drones for both business and personal use has correlated with a rise in the number of incidents with planes and other airborne vehicles.

This led to a number of European aviation associations calling for a continent-wide registration process in September that would leave their owners accountable and allow them to be educated on the correct usage of the devices. 

The DfT proposal is raised in a wider consultation about improving drone safety and it is hoped the scheme could help authorities identify the owners of drones which are flown illegally.

Other measures being consulted on include:

  • Tougher penalties for flying in restricted areas such as near airports and prisons
  • New warning signs around no-fly zones
  • Making drones electronically identifiable so the owner’s details can be passed to police if they are spotted breaking the law.

The consultation will also consider whether there is a need for a new criminal offence for misuse of drones.

Professional services firm PwC published a report in May which estimated that the global market for drone use will be worth $127bn (£103bn) in the coming years.

Aviation minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon claimed the Government was taking a “common sense approach” to ensuring the safe development of the technology in the UK.

He said: “Drones have enormous economic potential and are already being used by emergency services, transport and energy providers and conservation groups to improve services, respond to incidents and save lives.

“While the vast majority of drone users are law-abiding and have good intentions, some operators are not aware of the rules, or choose to break them, putting public safety, privacy and security at risk.”

Some 59 near misses involving drones and aircraft have featured in UK Airprox Board (UKAB) reports over the past 12 months.

In March, the government even considered implementing ‘virtual walls’ around key sites such as airports and military bases that would prevent drones installed with a ‘geo-fencing’ system from being able to fly or take off in certain locations. 

On 4 August a drone the size of a football was flown around 20 metres from a passenger jet.

The Airbus A320’s first officer shouted “look!” as the device passed next to the right wing at around 11,000ft above south-east London, according to the UKAB report.

Former RAF and British Airways pilot Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots’ Association, welcomed the launch of the DfT consultation.

He said: “Pilots are concerned about the growing number of near misses and the potential for catastrophe should a collision occur.

“At the same time, Balpa believes drone operators, especially hobbyists, need to be made aware of the potential dangers of irresponsible flying.

“We support the DfT in pressing for better education, compulsory registration and high profile prosecution for careless operators.”

Last month the CAA launched a new website to publish its revised code of conduct for drone users, labelled the dronecode. 

CAA policy director Tim Johnson said: “Our priority is the safe operation of drones and we cannot underestimate the importance of understanding how to use drones safely and responsibly.”

A mandatory drone registration system already launched in the US this time last year. 

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