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New legislation to regulate the use of drones

The Government this week published the results of its recent consultation into the use of drones in the UK.  With the increasing popularity of drones both commercially and for leisure and the unfortunate issues experienced at Gatwick Airport last month when drones were reported over the airfield, this new proposed legislation is designed to give greater powers to police and to protect the public. The potential threat was reinforced yesterday when Heathrow Airport experienced a similar situation to Gatwick with flights grounded while the sighting of a drone was investigated.

Currently it is unlawful to operate a drone above 400 ft /120m and they cannot be operated within 1km of airport boundaries.  Also, endangering the safety of any aircraft is a criminal offence and could result in a prison sentence of up to five years.

Many areas such as National Trust and English Heritage sites also require drone operators to obtain a permit in advance before drones are able to be flown on their property. Unfortunately, all of the above are regularly ignored by users.

Following the consultation, it is expected that the new legislation will introduce the following:

  • The area around airports where drones are banned from flying will increase from 1km to 5km

  • From 30 November 2019, operators of drones between 250g and 20kg will need to be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority

  • A minimum age restriction will be imposed on drone operators.

  • Police will have extra power to order users to land drones and for users to provide relevant documentation upon request.

  • Police will have additional powers to search premises and seize drones.

  • Fixed penalties of £100 can be issued to those failing to land a drone when requested or refusing to provide registration documents

  • Registered drone users will need to take and pass an online competency test

What does this mean for drone users

If you are flying a drone for leisure purposes, as many people will be, note the following:

  1. Familiarise yourself with and abide by the Civil Aviation Authority’s ‘Drone Code’ and all applicable laws relating to drone use, aviation, privacy, trespass and intellectual property, to name but a few.

  2. Keep your drone in sight.

  3. Always fly below 400 feet/120m

  4. Follow your manual/user instructions

  5. Keep 50m away from people and buildings and 150m away in crowds and built up areas

  6. Remember you are responsible for flying legally

  7. Stay away from aircraft, airports and airfields.

Of course drones also have a range of business uses and many companies are investing in this technology for commercial benefit.  Drones are helping create more efficient working practices from reducing risk in dangerous sectors or areas to supporting emergency services in locating individuals or recording incident footage, agricultural uses, delivering items and filming and surveying.

If you are considering using a drone for your business, you should familiarise yourself with the Civil Aviation Authority information pages on drones and unmanned vehicles which clearly set out the restrictions, regulations and permissions that you need to comply with if you are considering operating a drone yourself.  For a list of commercial drone operators with CAA permission to carry out Commercial Operations click here.  This list is updated monthly. 

You should also consider obtaining insurance to cover flights. Several providers offer insurance solutions for personal and commercial flights and ought to be considered for any commercial operation.

For anyone considering flying a drone it is also worth researching safe areas to fly. There are several websites and apps on the market which provide information about commercial air space and also allow you to share your location with other users to reduce the risk of drone related incidents.

Legal issues you may encounter when flying a drone include trespass, nuisance, breach of privacy and data protection.  BPE have already advised several clients in relation to drone related matters. 

For more information about our drone law service, click here or contact Riyaz Jariwalla, a Partner specialising in drone law and intellectual property.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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