Is this really the time for new drone regulations?

It’s taken some time, but the CAA’s current drone regulations are now becoming well known and understood. Of course, any drone pilot operating with a PfCO is already very familiar with the rules, but the Police, other authorities and general public have also become aware that they exist. A few years ago a call to the local Police that a drone was flying over crowds at the local beach may have received a confused and disappointing response, but there is strong evidence that enforcement action is now taking place. Current rules are now being understood.

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Just when we thought things were moving forwards for the drone industry a new framework for Commercial Drone Operations in the UK is emerging. Effectively the rule book is to be torn up and replaced by a new one. And the new regulations could become a requirement by as early as July 2020. Referred to as the EASA regulations, the new rules were published in June 2019 as Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945 and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947. The stated intention is to protect the safety and privacy of EU citizens while enabling the free circulation of drones. The latter part sounds encouraging, but will these changes just lead to more red tape and confusion and how will these new rules actually be enforced correctly?

Drone Safe Register have worked hard to encourage the safe use of drones and to improve public perception since November 2015. We have many questions about the EASA drone regulations and will work with the relevant authorities where we can to monitor and influence the situation. An obvious question is the Brexit issue, will the current CAA drone regulations change if we leave the EU?

Safe operation of drones is of course of paramount importance. The incident at Gatwick in December 2018 has certainly had a negative impact on the drone industry, so the last thing we want to see is an accident. The press would no doubt have a field day if a drone caused serious damage or injury. The BBC’s recent program ‘Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones’ was a perfect example of how the press likes to sensationalise drones and portray them as weapons for terrorists and a danger to passenger aircraft. Never mind balanced reporting or accurate scientific studies – scare stories attract viewers and readers!

After safety, the ability for drone pilots to operate across the EU under a common set of rules is the aim of the EASA rules but this will only benefit about 5% of the current professional drone community, but is this really necessary? Any commercial drone operators working outside the UK either have local contacts within the countries they need to work or the relevant knowledge and experience? We don’t see a surge in demand for professional drone pilots outside the UK creating opportunities. 

As well as the upheaval a new set of drone regulations will bring, our concern at Drone Safe Register is that the new rules appear to be more relaxed with a new open category – or at least that’s how we interpret them, and that’s another issue – the rules are so complex with different categories and new terms that they can be read in different ways. The new ‘Open’ category applies to “operations that are considered low risk.” Who decides whether an operation is low risk?

We would support more flexibility for well trained and experienced drone pilots, but the EASA rules could open the skies to anyone and increase the risk of accidents. The minimum distance a drone can be flown near people appears to be just 5 meters under the new rules. Planned and executed by an experienced pilot this distance is fine, but someone new to drones could put the public in danger at such close proximity.

It’s inevitable that legislation needs to adapt as technology develops, but is this really the time for new drone regulations?

As always, you can hire a CAA approved drone operator via our website.