Silhouette of flying drone in glowing red sunset sky

Rogue drones taken down as police get new stop-and-search powers

Image credit: Ig0rzh - Dreamstime

Police throughout the UK will be given stop-and-search powers around airports and prisons in new drone legislation currently going through Parliament, the Government has announced.

According to the Department of Transport (DoT), officers will be able to land, inspect and seize drones if an offence has been committed and a warrant is obtained.

The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill will amend the Police Act 1997 to give police and senior prison authorities the ability to authorise the use of counter-drone measures to combat illegal drone use.

On-the-spot fines will also be introduced for certain uses – for example, flying drones too high or close to buildings without permission, or failing to complete the online registration or safety tests required to fly them.

“Most people using drones want to do so responsibly and we encourage them to familiarise themselves with the law,” said transport minister Baroness Vere. “We are confident these police powers will be used proportionately to both deter careless drone use and to tackle serious, malicious criminal activity.”

The new Bill will have its second reading in Parliament today (January 27). It is the latest action from the UK government to ensure drones and other unmanned aircraft are used safely and responsibly. In October 2019, the government published its counter-drone strategy and in November 2019 it became mandatory for operators of small unmanned aircraft to register themselves and take an online competency test, with 80,000 having registered so far.

“This Bill is a vital part of the Government’s strategy to tackle the illegitimate use of drones and protect the UK’s growing drone industry,” added security minister Brandon Lewis. “For the UK to establish itself as a global leader in this exciting technology, it is vital that police have the powers to crack down on those who intend to use drones to cause harm or disruption.”

Drone sightings at Gatwick in December 2018 caused around 1,000 flights to either be cancelled or diverted over a 36-hour period, affecting more than 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.

A number of other airports have been forced to suspend flights for several hours due to drone activity, including Heathrow. Dubai International Airport was also affected by drone sightings back in February 2019.

The Bill will also give new powers to transport secretary Grant Shapps to ensure airports modernise their airspace in a bid to make flights quicker and quieter and reduce CO2 emissions.

Furthermore, the government is reviewing the UK’s approach to tackling the malicious use of drones, including testing and evaluating counter-drone technology.

Recently, Vodafone UK said drones should be equipped with SIM cards to give them cellular network connectivity, in order to combat improper usage and enable them to be flown beyond “visual line of sight” of their operators. Meanwhile, in September 2019, BT announced a new “counter-drone” programme that uses technology to detect, track and identify drones which breach airspace and site limits.

In November 2019, a report found that 50,000 drone owners were at risk of a £1,000 fine for not signing up to the register designed to keep track of their devices, following the growing number of drone incidents near airports.

The month before, a group of MPs at the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee told the UK Government that more action must be taken to understand the risks posed by drones to public safety and privacy, embedding clearer penalties.

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