EDIT: On the 8th January flights were suspended out of the UK’s biggest airport, Heathrow, due to drone activity. This news follows the drone sightings that halted take offs at Gatwick Airport last month. Continued drone issues make future changes to the UK law even more likely.
Recently flights were grounded at Gatwick Airport due to drone activity near the runway. The police are still determining who was responsible for piloting the drone, but there are already some calling for reform. So we’re going to discuss what the UK’s existing drone laws are and if they do need amending.
The Current Regulations
New drone laws were introduced on July 30th. These regulations mean that drones can’t be flown above 400 feet (122 meters) or within 1km of airport boundaries. Ignoring these rules could result in up to 5 years in jail or a fine of up to £2,5000.
In November 2019 more regulations will be introduced, with drone pilots being required to register with the Civil Aviation Authority and complete an online test. This law only pertains to drones which weigh in excess 250 gram, which means it applies to the majority of commercially available drones. Failing to comply with these regulations could result in a £1,000 fine.
Reforming the Law
Even before the Gatwick incident, drone issues were increasing in the UK; in 2017 there were a total of 73 drone incidents. Due to these problems, further drone regulation was already planned to reach Parliament in at the beginning of 2019.
The proposed Drones Bill will likely add fixed penalty notices to those who break the rules to encourage compliance. It could also introduce a smartphone app which all pilots would be required to download and use, in an attempt to make drones and their pilots more traceable. The app will track the drone and its pilot, making enforcing drones laws easier than ever.
Some argue that these reforms don’t go far enough. The Head of Flight Safety at the British Airline Pilot’s Association says that the airport exclusion zone should be extended to 5km. The Head of Air Traffic Services at Southend Airport went further saying it should be extended to 10 kilometres.
How Can Police Stop Drones?
Many people online called for the police to shoot down the drone over Gatwick, but this method was disregarded by the authorities. Sussex Police said that shooting down the drone would be too dangerous due to the risks associated with stray bullets and drones falling from the sky.
Jamming the drone’s signal is another way to stop pilots, but even this also isn’t an ideal solution. Like bullets, jamming the signal could cause the drone to fall from the sky but that wouldn’t always happen. Many commercial drones include a feature which sends the drone back to the pilot when the signal is lost. This means that jamming the signal would simply return the drone rather than stopping the pilot permanently.
More interesting than a signal jammer is the Dutch Police’s solution to drone issues. They trained eagles to grab rouge drones out of the sky, though the scheme was scrapped as the eagles weren’t doing what they were told.