Drone Expert Says Some Drone Users Don’t Know or Don’t Care About the Law

Matt Whitfield when he was Royal Navy fighter pilot

Drones have now been banned from flying within 5km of an airport … but an expert says it will only be effective if it’s policed robustly and there are other strict rules that drone users are flouting.

The Government brought in the new rule change on Wednesday (March 13) and says this is the start to a far tougher approach to governing how drones are flown. New penalties for breaking the law on misusing drones range from fines to life imprisonment if the device is intentionally used to cause violence.

But former Royal Navy fighter pilot Matt Whitfield, who is now a trainer and examiner with nationwide drone training company Flyby Technology (https://www.flybydronetraining.co.uk), says it’s not the drones that are the problem but the people who fly them.

And he revealed that some drone enthusiasts don’t realise it’s also illegal to fly a drone above 400ft and that they must maintain sight of their drone at all times without the use of any third person viewing goggles.

Matt said: “The Government is absolutely right to amend the drone laws which is badly needed but, sadly, there will always people who will flout them and last December’s testing disruption at Gatwick Airport is about as high profile an example of that as you can get.

“At that point it was illegal to fly a drone within 1,000 metres of an airfield but whoever was behind what happened at Gatwick totally ignored that law and even now, three months later, no-one has yet been brought to justice over what happened.”

Matt also stressed that people wanting to fly drones commercially need to have successfully completed a drone-flying qualification accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority and achieved their Permission for Commercial Operations certificate (PfCO).

“If you’re hiring a commercial drone pilot to do some work for you then you really should ask to see their CAA permission to carry out the work,” said Matt. “If they don’t have one then their liability insurance will not be valid.”

Under the new 5km airport exclusion zones drone users can still fly within it if they get permission from air traffic control or the airport.

A new Drones Bill is now being drafted and next Wednesday (March 20) the Aviation Minister Liz Sugg will meet with leading drone manufacturers to discuss how to tackle criminal drone use.

They are expected to discuss a range of topics including counter-drone technology and software – such as ‘geofencing’ – that could be built into drones at the point of manufacture. That means they would be rendered incapable of flying over restricted areas.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “The UK has been consistently at the forefront of legislation to tackle drone misuse.

“All drone users should be aware that flying a drone within 5km of an airport or over 400ft is a serious criminal act, one which could put lives at risk and risks penalties ranging from significant fines to a life sentence.”

Aviation Minister Liz Sugg added: “Flying drones illegally puts others at risk both in the air and on the ground so it’s vital they are used safely.

“The majority of people using drones want to do so responsibly, so we have expanded a national campaign to ensure they know the rules – and the penalties.”

The new Drones Bill, which is currently being drafted, will give extra powers to the police to clamp down on those misusing drones and other small unmanned aircraft – including the power to access electronic data stored on a drone with a warrant. It will also include stop and search powers for drone users near aerodromes.

The Civil Aviation Authority says the Government has also confirmed that from November 30 this year operators of drones weighing 250g or more will be required to register with the CAA and drone pilots will have to take an online safety test.

The Home Office is also reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones and will consider how best to protect the full range of the UK’s critical national infrastructure – including testing and evaluating technology to counter drones.

Guest post by Andy Hirst