UK Considers ‘Red Flag Act’ for Drones

Will the Department for Transport’s recommendations for drone regulation harm the fledgling industry?

In 1865 Britain introduced the ‘Locomotives on Highways Act’. Better known as the ‘Red Flag Act’.

The act stipulated that all mechanically powered road vehicles (cars) must:

  • Have three drivers.
  • Not exceed 4 mph (6.4 kph) on the open road and 2 mph (3.2 kph) in towns.
  • Be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag to warn the public.

It took nearly 30 years for this law to be repealed but with the talk of mandatory registration for drones in the UK are we resorting to another similar knee-jerk reaction to a new technology?

Recently the Department for Transport said:

‘The UK is at the forefront of an exciting and fast growing drones market. We are seeing drones being used across many of our sectors, improving services, creating high tech jobs and boosting our economy. Drones and their applications are a key opportunity to cement the UK as the place for exciting technology companies to build their business, scientists and engineers to drive innovation, and tech investors to invest – in line with our Industrial Strategy aims and objectives.’

In a little over four years the fledgling drone industry in the UK has grown to over 4,000 commercial drone operators yet the same report calls for mandatory registration of drones over 250g. I wonder how many would have begun their journey into this innovate sector if there were barriers to entry at the beginning? It is well known that any type of barrier prevents the adoption of a new technology, it only serves to slow down progress and it may prevent the UK from having its share of the predicted multibillion pound industry in the future. Companies who are at the forefront of innovation in the drone industry, like Amazon, have based themselves in the UK specifically for the reason that we have some of the best regulations for drone use anywhere in the world.

The somewhat pessimistic and alarmist reporting from the established air users’ organisations is not helping the new drone industry. It is arguably not reflective of the actual risks posed to manned aircraft by drones.   By lobbying these organisations force the Authorities to react in the only way they can, by increasing legislation. The trend to also put pressure on drone manufacturers is counter-productive and may damage their business model. There is already a growing drone-hacker community and companies are now selling hardware to overcome the hard-wired geofencing restrictions in some drones.

Drone education not regulation is the best middle ground

Admittedly there are some irresponsible, ignorant or illegal drone users out there but they are very much the minority.  I would argue that education not regulation and the effective enforcement of extant regulation is the best middle ground. As the drone services sector grows a myriad of supporting industry will emerge. This can be seen with the growth in the number of drone training providers, insurers and retailers. Also there are a few business like mine which are drone security providers.

As a business we are helping a number of organisations in the UK and overseas understand the impact that nefarious drone use might have on the. And where legislation allows we can offer more practical means to prevent unwanted drone flights.

If you have concerns about the potential negative impact drones may have on your organisation then we can help you better understand the risks. Contact us on info@dronedefence.co.uk or visit our website at www.dronedefence.co.uk

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