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  • FT

UK set to ban drones from flying within 1km of airports

The UK government has announced new rules to ban drones from flying within 1km of UK airports, in an effort to prevent collisions with aeroplanes.

The Department for Transport said on Wednesday that the number of “drone incidents with aircraft” had risen from six in 2014 to 93 last year.

The new rules, which will come into effect at the end of July, will also restrict drones from flying above 400ft.

Violators could be punished with unlimited fines, five years in jail, or, in some cases, both.

Liz Sugg, aviation minister, said: “Whilst we want this industry to innovate and grow, we need to protect planes, helicopters and their passengers from the increasing numbers of drones in our skies.

The DfT cited a PwC estimate that the UK drone industry could be worth £42bn by 2030.

Other rule changes, set to go into effect at the end of November 2019, will require all drone pilots to take an online safety test.

Under those rules, people owning drones weighing more than 250g will also have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority. People who fail to take the test or register their drones could face up to £1,000 in fines.

The government also has plans to publish a “drones bill” later this year. DfT said the bill will “give police more tailored powers to intervene on the spot if drones are being used inappropriately”.

Online retailer Amazon, which has been testing its Prime Air drone delivery service in the UK, will not be affected by the new rules as commercial drone operators are already required to fly under 400ft unless they have the permission of the CAA.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has previously praised the UK’s rules as “a very encouraging example of good regulation”.

The company declined to comment on Wednesday’s announcement.

Angus Benson-Blair, former chairman of the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, the industry trade body, said the new rules were sensible and “long overdue”, and would contribute to the UK’s status as “world leaders” in drone regulation.

Rules surrounding drones vary across the EU, because responsibilities for regulating drones lighter than 150kg rest with member states.

However, Brussels is considering expanding its oversight to include all drones as soon as this summer.

In the US, drone operators have been required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration since December 2015, but other regulations vary from state to state.

Heathrow Airport welcomed Wednesday’s announcement. “Although drone technology can be incredibly useful, the irresponsible use of them within close proximity of airports remains a serious risk and we will continue to work with the government to tackle it,” it said.


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