Bill to tackle emissions from planes and illegal drone use receives royal assent

The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill has received royal assent. The Bill is focused on further reducing carbon emissions from the travel industry and has granted extra powers to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, to facilitate this. It has also granted powers to the police to tackle the illegal use of drones. Aviation subject matter expert Simon Phippard shares his thoughts on the new rules surrounding drones.

Shapps is now able to waive the rule that obligates airlines to run a minimum of 80% of their scheduled flights to keep their allotted airport slots. The waiving of this will allow for greater flexibility for airlines in deciding whether to cancel a flight that will be nigh on empty. Shapps has said this will be crucial in ‘building back better’ from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as it will mean high-carbon, high-cost ‘ghost flights’ can be cancelled instead of running with very few passengers on board. 

In relation to the new rules on drones, Simon notes:

'The Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021 (ATMUAA 2021) completes the process – heralded some time ago – of introducing Fixed Penalty Notices for minor drone offences. Police officers will also have powers to require an operator to ground a drone if they believe it is being used for the commissioning of an offence. They can also require production of documents such as a certificate of competency or evidence of registration, on grounds only that a drone flight is taking place. However it does not have to be produced at once – there is a seven day compliance period. If drone use does indeed increase as some anticipate there is a view that the police will need enhanced powers to ensure that the requirements under the new Open category are being followed. 

Perhaps of greater significance are the changes to Part III of the Police Act 1997 (PA 1997). This enables senior police officers to authorise "interference with property" or with wireless telegraphy in the event of serious crime. In the aftermath of the suspected Gatwick drone incident in 2018 it was unclear whether many drone offences would fall under this power, and therefore how far those powers could be invoked in support of use of counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) measures. The amendments to the PA 1997 contained in the ATMUAA 2021 confirm that various offences under the Air Navigation Order – including failure to obtain permission for flight near aerodromes – and endangering safety contrary to the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 now fall within the powers in the PA 1997. The safeguards such as requiring senior level authorisation still apply, but those taking authorised action benefit from immunity from suit for any interference with property. There are also enhanced powers for senior prison officers and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. 

Not long after the Gatwick incident it appeared that the government was considering a licensing regime for counter-UAS detector and effector technology, raising the prospect that private sector interests may be able to operate their own equipment to manage some threats they perceive from rogue drones. This looks some way off, certainly for the use of effector capability – ie taking control of a rogue drone. For the time being police support seems necessary for the use of such capability. 

The ATMUAA 2021 also contains new powers in relation to airspace change proposals - a subject which has become increasingly contentious in the UK’s crowded skies, and not only in relation to new airspace users such as unmanned aircraft.’ 

Source: Bill to modernise airspace and tackle illegal use of unmanned aircraft receives Royal Assent 

This LNB News item was first published on Lexis®PSL on 04/05/2021 and can be found here (subscription required). Reproduced with kind permission from LexisNexis. 

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