In early 2017 the UK Government carried out a consultation on the safe use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) under the banner "Unlocking the UK's High Tech Economy". The Department for Transport (DfT) has now published its response to that public consultation, setting out the Government's proposals to develop the regulatory framework governing the use of UAS.
The response, dated 22 July 2017, was published simultaneously with the findings of a study jointly commissioned study undertaken by the DfT, the Military Aviation Authority and the British Airline Pilots' Association, which showed that UAS weighing as little as 400g can pose a critical risk to aircraft (in particular, to helicopters). The proposals are intended to continue to encourage commercial growth of UAS, whilst reducing the risk posed to manned aircraft operations.
The response should be read in the context of the upcoming changes to the EU rules regulating UAS, as detailed in the Notice of Proposed Amendment 2017-05 (NPA) published by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). For further details, see our previous note on this subject.
The key highlights of the response are as follows:
Operators of UAS weighing 250g and above will be required to register their details, with a view to improving accountability. Operators of low-weight UAS will only need to register once to operate any number of systems, whilst those operating heavier systems (at a threshold to be determined) will be required to also register each such UAS individually. It is 'highly likely' that there will be a charge for registration, but the DfT aims to keep the registration process 'admin-light'. For instance, the government is exploring online registration and the use of apps. The DfT also hopes to embed electronic identification and tracking linked to registration, to facilitate enforcement action.
Leisure operators of UAS weighing 250g and above will be required to undertake a mandatory basic knowledge test on UK UAS law (including safety, security and privacy) and how to fly UAS safely.
The response contains plans to bring forward and expand the use of geo-fencing in the UK, including improving communication of no-drone-flying zones and working with drone manufacturers to ensure geo-fencing is implemented for such zones.
The DfT is exploring further additional changes to improve safety, including increasing the penalties for breaking the laws governing UAS and expanding the powers available to law enforcement agencies. As of yet, there is no justification for primary legislation to change insurance requirements, but the Government will launch a "drone insurance project group" with the Civil Aviation Authority to develop further solutions and promote best practice against the background of a more comprehensive examination of the subject.