New Regs, New Rules – Drones Get Restrictions?

New Regs: We all knew this was coming. Due to the many incidents that have occurred surrounding drones, there’s been a lot of public outcries for people to make changes to the laws and crack down on how and where individuals can fly drones. We’ve been keeping up with the policy that, following the Department for Transport announcement on Wednesday 20thFebruary, comes into force on the 13th of March 2019. With that in mind, we’re going to be taking a look at the new policy and how it affects you.

New Regs: The Story

So, a bit of backstory. What we found was that not too long ago, drones caused chaos at a major UK airport and brought the entire complex to a complete standstill for days. This was not something that could be ignored, and so a series of new laws and policies were put into place with the intention of supporting improved control over where and how drones were flown.

New Regs: The Policy – What has changed?

There is an Amendment to UK Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) with regard to small unmanned aircraft. This is contained under Statutory Instrument (SI) 2019 No. 261 entitled ‘The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2019’

In essence, there are two key principles which are at work here for the drone community to take notice of. These are the replacement of the original article 94A of the 2016 Order which prohibits the flying of small unmanned aircraft over 400 feet, and article 94B which prohibits flights within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome, without the required permission.

The replacement Articles 94A and 94B restrict permission on flights. Permission will now be required for all flights by all small unmanned aircraft, regardless of size or weight, within the new flight restriction zone.

Permission for such flights will need to be obtained from the air traffic control unit, flight information service unit or airport operator, depending on whether the flight takes place during the operational hours of either unit. Permission will be required from the Civil Aviation Authority for all flights above 400 feet unless permission from an air traffic control unit or flight information service unit is required.

Their fundamental purpose is to reinforce the fact that the pilot is directly responsible for the craft and its safety and the safety of others, and that the pilot should also never allow the drone to go out of its line of sight to ensure that there are no collisions or damages to property or people.

As a result of these changes, there are significant impacts on the use of drones for either commercial or personal use. This does raise some concerns about the restrictions these new rules place on responsible drone users. For instance;

  • The rules apply to all airfields, regardless of size and frequency of use;
  • The rules apply to all drones, regardless or size or weight, and;
  • The approvals process remains unclear.

The situation could easily be that a child, residing within the extended flight restriction zone of a major airfield, takes their new toy drone into the garden to fly it. The drone in question is only capable of being flown within 10m of the controller and has no camera. The child’s actions will, under the proposed changes, be prosecutable as a criminal act. Should they, and all other drone flying residents and commercial operators within the flight restriction zone, apply to the relevant authority for permission to fly, then we’re in for a possible bureaucratic nightmare. A number of airports contacted for comment had no process for handling such requests.

It is worth remembering that the recent drone disruption at Gatwick was already illegal so increasing restrictive legislation alone is not enough and what has been announced is possibly a quarter turn too tight.

We would advocate a more active approach where not only airports but prisons, power stations, festivals and football stadia etc are given the ability to protect themselves from potential drone-related risks.

Overall, we believe there is a better way to achieve the outcomes. We’ll continue to develop new and improved countermeasures for drones that, if adopted, will dramatically increase baseline security of national infrastructure facilities. This would support a relaxing of legislation and as a result, decriminalise the next generation of drone enthusiasts and commercials operators.