If you own a drone in the UK you will soon be forced to sit a government safety awareness test to prove your credentials before you can legally fly, in a bid to crackdown on unsafe and criminal use of the technology.
Reports about a nationwide registration programme to “improve accountability” and encourage responsible use go back to July, but the latest annoucement comes as new statistics show a 60% increase in near misses with planes.
There have been 99 incidents, compared to 62 in 2016 and 29 in 2015, including one that nearly made contact with an Airbus A319 landing at London Gatwick.
A report from the Military Aviation Authority deemed any drone over 400 grams, big enough to fatally damage the windscreens of helicopters (although it would take a heavier drone, of around 2kg, to critically damage a commercial airliner windscreen).
As a result the authorities are introducing the new bill, expected to be published in Spring 2018, which will require anyone with a drone that weighs over 250 grams to be visible.
Users will have to provide their details via an app and then keep this official software on their smartphone as a point of reference for legal guidance.
The new laws will also give the police better powers to intervene in cases of unsafe usage and confiscating devices they believe are being used by criminals.
The current 2016 government ‘Drone Code’ legislation has no way of prohibiting this behaviour, despite asking that users always keep the drone in sight, stay below 400 feet, keep the right distance from people and property and stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields.
Aviation minister Lord Callanan said: “By registering drones, [and] introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public... our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones.”
They also want to develop good use for them too, as Baroness Sugg said: “Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops.
“But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns.”
In the last few years, there has been a spike in use of drones in Britain, and the authorities are increasingly concerned about the potential dangers they pose, and how they facilitate illegal activity, such as smuggling contraband into prison.
“Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives. But like all technology, drones too can be misused,” said Lord Callanan.
The government stated that in an attempt to stop people using drones to supply prisoners, they hopes to be able to have geo-fencing technology, which works like an invisible shield around buildings or sensitive areas using GPS coordinates, built into future drone models.
This would mean they could stop drones from entering airspace above prisons or airports.