On 22 July 2017, the UK Government published its response to the recent consultation on the safe use of drones in the UK. The response is timely: drone misuse and near misses are increasing, and it is widely believed that more needs to be done to improve drone safety to properly harness the commercial and public benefits. So what is the government proposing?

1. Increasing the accountability of drone users:

  • All drone users of drones of 250g and above will have to register themselves, and their drone(s) too;
  • The Government will work with stakeholders to consider how best to embed electronic identification and tracking capability within this registration scheme, so that enforcement action against irresponsible drone use can be improved;
  • There will also be mandatory competency testing, such as online tests, for all leisure users (commercial users already have required standards to meet).

2. Changes to penalties and enforcement to reduce misuse of drones and risk of accidents:

The government has not yet reached any final decisions, but is exploring a number of options, including:

  • Tightening rules around where users can fly;
  • Increasing penalties;
  • Banning of the use of drones near airports; and
  • Reviewing the powers that law enforcement agencies have.

3. Working with the CAA to support commercial users of drones

The government is looking at ways to help commercial users grow their businesses through increased use of drones, including:

  • Ensuring the Air Navigation Order 2016 is updated to reflect the needs of the growing market and reflects incoming EU drone regulations. This is particularly interesting in the context of Brexit – maintaining a regulatory structure that reflects EU regulation would avoid manufacturers having to grapple with dual-regulation, but creating a regulatory environment that encourages innovation could give the UK a competitive advantage as a hub for drone technology;
  • Supporting the CAA in implementing changes to the permissions process; and
  • Setting up a joint CAA and DfT-led working group to work with the insurance sector and the drone industry to improve the insurance regime.

4. Planning for the future

Looking further into the future, the UK Government has explained that it will be:

  • Continuing to explore the development of an unmanned traffic management system; and
  • As a matter of priority, bringing forward work to create an authoritative source of UK airspace data, which will facilitate the implementation of geo-fencing and build greater awareness of airspace restrictions amongst drone users.

The UK Government’s attempts to adapt its regulatory framework to meet the challenges posed by drone technology will be largely welcomed. In the Government’s words, it hopes that “these measures will place the UK at the front of the global drone applications market.”