The U.K.’s European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has introduced a draft of proposed drone regulations to maintain the safety of the U.K. airspace and stimulate drone innovation. Under the rules, owners of drones weighing more than 250 grams would have to register their drones and pass a mandatory safety examination.
The proposed regulations are similar to drone regulations that have been enacted in the U.S., but more stringent. The FAA enacted and enforced drone registration until the U.S. Court of Appeals declared it unlawful earlier this year. “Fundamentally, this looks like regulations in the U.K. are developing more or less in parallel with the U.S., except that an act of Congress prohibits regulation of hobby drones,” says Brant Hadaway, partner with the Diaz, Reus law firm where he established an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) practice. The U.K. government is acutely aware of the unique safety risk posed by drones and that more stringent regulations are necessary. But Hadaway thinks that the solutions offered in the U.K. report are more burdensome than helpful. “The U.S. and U.K. approach is wrongheaded. They’re trying to regulate drones the way that manned aircraft have been regulated,” says Hadaway. “Drones are different, and we need rules specifically designed for the way people use them.”
Are you a good test taker?
In the U.S. the FAA requires only commercial drone pilots to hold any type of certification. The U.K. proposal establishes competency standards for recreational pilots, but did not make the competency test for commercial pilots more stringent. The report advised Parliament to consider increasing the current £2,500 (roughly $3281) maximum penalty for offenses including “flying a drone with a camera within 150 meters of a large crowd of people without an exemption” and “breaching an airspace restriction.”
The proposal acknowledges that the U.K. government needs to do a better job communicating airspace restrictions around airports, prisons, and other secure facilities to the drone community. In particular, the government “will work with drone manufacturers for them to use this data to implement geo-fencing for these areas in their drones.”
Regulate smarter, not harder
Drone-maker DJI told the BBC it is in favor of the proposed measures. There is no time frame or firm plans as to how the new rules will be enacted or enforced, and the Department of Transport admit "the nuts and bolts still have to be ironed out." The report was created with public comments from 678 individuals, mostly recreational drone pilots, as well as 85 people who either used or were considering using drones in a commercial business. Also, 61 airplane pilots and about the same number of businesses and industry associations weighed in.
Hadaway suggests that regulatory bodies like the FAA will eventually have to take an approach more like the cell phone industry, in which tracking capabilities are built into the hardware. That means manufacturers will be responsible for managing the safe operation of drone technology, not consumers.
“If a bad actor with bad intentions wants to get around the rules, they will simply fail to register their drone, they will fail to get certified, and there will be no way to stop them,” he says. “These proposed rules are an example of legacy thinking. We need a more intelligent approach to regulating drones.”
In the U.S., a framework for drone identification and tracking is already being established. Perhaps soon, legislators across the pond will follow suit.