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UK drone laws set with safety in mind

Drone operators will face height and geographical restrictions on where they can fly their machines from later this summer under new UK laws.30 May 2018

The new restrictions will apply to drones weighing 250 grams or more and will apply from 30 July. The legislation introduced will also require drone pilots to take online safety tests and to register their machines with the Civil Aviation Authority before use. Those duties are set to take effect from 30 November 2019.

The new legislation is primarily aimed at addressing the increased safety risks that have materialised from the growing use of drones by both commercial and recreational operators, said health and safety law specialist Willie Park of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

According to the UK government, there were 93 reported incidents in the UK in 2017 involving drones and aircraft.

"That figure represents a 25% annual increase – the new laws focus squarely on addressing that rate of increase," Park said.

"The safety challenges associated with increased drone usage are clear and the government has acted to try and address those. Unlimited fines and prison sentences of up to five years for people who breach the height and airport boundary restrictions demonstrate the seriousness with which the government views the situation, as do fines of up to £1,000 for anyone who does not register their drone or take the online safety test," he said.

Park said, though, that the new laws, which are due to take effect on 30 July, will provide a clearer regulatory framework against which drones will be able to be operated for commercial purposes.

"The benefits of using drones to carry out various tasks are already being seen by companies in a wide range of sectors and industries," Park said. "In the offshore oil and gas and wind sectors, drones are being used to carry out surveys and inspections in challenging and dangerous locations without exposing people to risks to their health and safety, while Network Rail uses drones to survey tracks for regular maintenance or following incidents."

"Amazon’s Prime Air and Google’s Project Wing both see a future where drones will be used to deliver goods. Indeed, Amazon boldly predicts that 'one day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road'," he said.

The UK government had confirmed in November last year that it would introduce new legislation on the use of drones in spring 2018.

In addition to the new laws it has now outlined, the government has promised to publish a new draft Drones Bill later this summer to "give police more tailored powers to intervene on the spot if drones are being used inappropriately".

It also said that, in future, drone operators will also be obliged to use apps containing "the information needed to make sure any planned flight can be made safely and legally".