In a previous article, we covered the basics in terms of what actual changes are being made to the rules and regulations for drone use in the UK. However, there’s a lot more in the government’s recently released response to the ongoing consultation period as it continues to shape and evolve the law in collaboration with the industry and drone users.
While still very much in the proposal stage, there are no guarantees that any of the following will come into legal effect – at least not any time soon and not exactly as currently outlined – but they do give some food for thought on what the government, and the wider drone industry, is looking into…
One interesting development saw a proposed minimum age for drone operators brought forward as a potential law change (it was merely a consideration in previous reports). However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that young people can’t fly – bearing in mind the likes of Luke Bannister was only 15 when he won the World Drone Prix FPV racing title a few years back.
This new document helps to clarify the difference between a drone ‘operator’ and a ‘remote pilot’, emphasising that the operator is the person in charge of the flight, while the pilot is the person in control of it. In essence, that means that people under 18 would still be able to fly, as long as an adult is on hand to accept responsibility for it. The upcoming drone registration process that comes into effect from 30 November this year relates to drone operators, so any underage pilots of a craft between 250g and 20kg may well need to get an adult to register for them to be able to legally fly it.
While this might seem like a nuisance, especially to those youngsters looking to make a name for themselves in the FPV community, it could be a lot worse. For example, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) is looking to implement a stricter minimum age for all pilots (as low as 14 at each member country’s discretion) but the UK government says it does not support this. Certainly, the report highlights how it appreciates the benefits of drones as a learning tool in STEM subjects, as well as seeing the advantages of getting people into UAV technology at an early age.
Model Aircraft Exemptions
Elsewhere the concerns of model aircraft fliers were acknowledged to minimise the impact of drone legislation on this side of the market, with the government suggesting that people who are members of a CAA-recognised model flying club could be exempt – as these clubs are expected to offer mandatory insurance as well as specialist safety training and further knowledge.
For example, such members who fly model aircraft under 7kg would be exempt from the 400ft rule, while those under 3.5kg could operate beyond visual line of sight if FPV equipment was in use, with further exemptions currently being discussed. Accepted organisations include the British Model Flying Association, the Scottish Aeromodellers Association, the Large Model Association and FPV UK.
Other areas for ongoing discussions and proposals include counter-drone technology (which we’ll cover in our article covering the new police powers), further introduction of geofencing technology and the use of ‘electrical conspicuity’ as a form of identifying craft and alerting others of its presence – with a previous ‘Aviation 2050’ report backing mandatory ID for ALL aircraft in the UK and likely to come into force in 2022.
The overall idea is to integrate a system that enables drones to alert other pilots in the area of their presence and vice-versa. Essentially an app-based platform it does open up the potential for sharing information about drone use with others, as well as providing updates on local airspace, air traffic, weather reports, no-fly zones and so on. In theory, it could also make it easier to track down nefarious pilots (such as someone flying near an airport, for example), but it does raise a few questions about the practical implementation of any legally-required system.
It’s worth noting that the government’s own proposed Flight Information Notification Systems (FINS) that would “provide digital, interactive and real-time information to improve the safety, security and accountability of drone use” will not be implemented at this time. The respondents to the consultation pointed to the various systems already on offer that provide a similar service and were concerned about restrictions, such as having to provide pre-flight plans limiting spontaneous flights or hindering drone users in areas lacking a phone signal.
Law and Order
As mentioned, the majority of these topics are still in the proposals stage and there are plenty more discussions and refinements to be made in the months ahead – so there are no guarantees that everything in the report will become law (at least not as it’s currently defined). However, it is clear that there are a lot of factors for safe drone use that still needs to be addressed, and quite some time until the full legal infrastructure is in place. And with the technology moving as quickly as ever, it could be difficult for the law to keep up.
You can read the government’s response to the consultation here. And keep your eyes peeled as there may well be another chance to have your say on these matters later in the year. We’ll keep you posted!