A new law on drones, which comes into effect on 30 July 2018, does not go far enough to keep our skies safe, pilots’ union BALPA has warned.
The legislation will mean some UK drone users will have to pass online safety tests. Restrictions around airport boundaries have also been clarified, stopping any drone flying within 1km of them. Additionally, people who own drones weighing 250g or more will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Some drones, usually cheaper models, weigh less than 250g. But most – especially those with built-in cameras – weigh more. These requirements will come into force on 30 November 2019.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has previously called on the government to tighten laws on drones after the steep rise in near-misses with aircraft in recent years – there were 93 near misses in 2017 alone. However, the proposed new law includes limited restrictions that will allow drones to be flown up to 400ft just 1km from an airport boundary.
BALPA says that this is a ‘very dangerous’ situation as aircraft will already be lower than this at this point on approach to an airport, so the new regulations must go further to avoid potential collisions.
BALPA Flight Safety Specialist, Steve Landells, said: “We’re pleased the Government is taking near-misses seriously and making changes to the law, but it is crucial that these go further to avoid a potential catastrophe.
“We hoped we would see something similar to the regulations introduced in Australia, which state that unmanned operations must not be flown within 3 nautical miles (around 5.5km) of an airfield. Safety in the UK is no less important than in Australia.
“BALPA is not anti-drone and we understand the commercial considerations in not making laws too restrictive, but a hobbyist drone has no business being flown near an airport and allowing this to happen increases the risk of a catastrophic collision.”
Drones are being used to inspect national infrastructure, surveying for construction and to monitor maintenance. PwC has predicted the industry could be worth £42 billion in the UK by 2030.
The new laws are being made via an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016.
Drone users who flout the new height and airport boundary restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft. This could result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
Users who fail to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000.