2020 Changes in UK Drone Law

It all seemed so simple in the ‘good old days’ of drone flying in the UK.

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If you wanted to use a drone for business or to make money with it in some way you had to obtain a ‘PfCO’ from the CAA. The rules may have felt restrictive to some, but at least they were simple to understand and actually worked quite well.

As July 2020 looms closer, (Now delayed due to Coronavirus) UK drone laws are about to change. At Drone Safe Register™ we recognise that rules and regulations have to adapt and change with emerging technology, but the new drone laws are confusing to say the least. We also feel they do not promote drone safety as clearly as existing rules.

Drone Safe Register™ is calling for a straightforward UK drone policy – A policy people actually have a chance of understanding. We see real signs that public opinion is growing more positive around the use of drones and their benefits. Our enquiry numbers are up, and we’re picking up regular work for our members for roof inspections and drone insurance assessments. There is a risk that new drone laws could kill our industry just as it’s taking off.

The current system of PfCO requirement for commercial work actually works well. We are concerned that the new scheme will force many pilots to pay thousands of pounds to obtain extra permissions to suit their business needs. At the same time, ‘non trained’ will creep into the market for more basic commercial drone work driving down the fees professionals can charge and putting some out of business.

Is this the way for the UK to become a world leader in the use of drone technology?

We also need to consider the question of enforcement of drone laws. Law enforcement authorities in the UK haven’t been able to manage this with the current fairly simple rules. Often, they don’t know or understand what they are, so when incidents are reported authorities don’t know how to react. The additional complexity from July 2020 will make things even more confusing.

The new drone classes are to be based on aircraft weight and other specifications such as maximum speed. Drones are rated between C0 and C4 depending on these factors. There are then 3 categories of use depending on risk factors – Open, Specific and Certified. How will a member of the public or Police Officer know which class a drone is and which category it’s operating in when they see one flying over crowd at a beach?

Sub 250g drones are also an area for confusion. From July they will have to be registered if they have an onboard camera – such as a DJI Mavic Mini. At the moment many operators of these smaller drone believe they are exempt from all rules and can fly wherever and whenever they want to.

Drone registration in the UK has been a huge failure in our opinion. The £3M system isn’t fit for purpose, and thousands of owners haven’t registered at all. Offering exemptions has led to delays and added further costs.

So, what’s driving the changes? Many believe it’s Brexit related, but at DSR we feel it’s related to the Government wanting to sell off UK airspace with an electronic tag system. We want the UK drone community to stand up to the looming disaster and fight the EASA rules. The CAA should be supporting us to ensure the UK keeps up with the rest of the world in the use of drones and the benefits they bring.

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About the Author: DSR Journalist

Harrison Green