The UK government has initiated a consultation process to prevent the misuse of drones, with deterrents such as the issuance of on-the-stop fines for offenders and the ability for security forces to seize platforms if necessary.

Launching the consultation on 26 July, the government stated that any new measures ‘are intended to ensure drones are being used safely’ in a market that is expected to grow rapidly over the next decade.

Studies regularly suggest that growth of the civil and commercial drone sectors will rocket in coming years, although many of these use cases are still dependent on technological developments to ensure effective BVLOS flight and regulatory framework to enable businesses to flourish.

Globally, countries are pursuing a variety of different legislative avenues in order to create a workable framework to allow the safe operation of unmanned systems for civil, commercial or hobbyist use. 

However, difficulties persist in determining how integrated the airspace should be, particularly for BVLOS flights, and whether restrictions should be introduced as to who can legally operate such systems.

The UK government said that a draft drone bill will be published later in 2018. 

Proposed measures to counter misuse of drone in public spaces include the ability for UK police to issue penalty notices, the use of counter-UAS technologies to protect public events and national infrastructure and the introduction of a minimum-age limit for owners.

In response to the announcement of the consultation, Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), said that it was ‘absolutely necessary’ and that drones ‘had to be kept well away’ from other manned aircraft.

’A drone at 400ft, 1km away from an airport is still directly in the flight path and that is plainly not safe and yet is allowed under the new legislation. Therefore, BALPA will continue to argue for a drone exclusion zone around airports of 5km in the interests of safety,’ Strutton added

The UK Aviation Minister, Baroness Sugg, stated that the government had already introduced a range of legislation to manage instances of drone misuse, such as a maximum flight ceiling, with the consultation now being used to determine additional measures.

Detailing current benefits of civil and commercial drone use in the UK, Sugg said that unmanned inspections at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station brought a 50% reduction compared to using manned aircraft. Similar savings were found for drone inspections of wind turbines.

‘Drones are already being used for a myriad of exciting applications from inspecting national infrastructure like railways and power stations, to aiding disaster relief by speeding up the delivery of blood,’ she said.

‘The industry has the potential to be worth billions to the UK economy so it is vital that it develops with a strong framework to encourage innovation and growth while keeping people safe.’

Additionally, on 30 July updates to the Air Navigation Order come into force, which implement new height and airport boundary restrictions. Breaches of these restriction by drone operators could see fines of up to £2,500 ($3,250) while also potentially being charged with ‘recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft’, which carries a maximum five-year prison term.

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