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Technology / Emerging Technology

UK mulls no-fly zones and safety tests in drone crackdown

A tech-lover’s favourite Christmas present could soon come with homework, with the UK government planning to introduce a raft of new laws concerning the regulation of drones.

Under the proposals, drone pilots could face a safety awareness test and have to comply with no-fly zones, such as airports. UK users of the increasingly popular tech will also have to register before take-off, under new laws slated for spring 2019.

The draft legislation aims to “regulate the purchase and use of drones” above 250g, with the crackdown also extending to the use of drones “for connected purposes,” such as tackling the rise in drone use for drug and mobile phone drops into prisons.

Serena Kennedy, Assistant Chief Constable of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), told BBC Breakfast the measures would empower police to manage the “increasing problem” of airborne smuggling of goods into prison, as well as cracking down on “disruptive behaviour” and invasion of privacy.

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“Police forces are aware of the ever increasing use of drones by members of the public and we are working with all relevant partners to understand the threats that this new technology can pose when used irresponsibly or illegally,” said Ms Kennedy.

Statista’s projected growth of drone sales around the world between 2015 and 2021.

“At the moment we’re using other bits of legislation – the Civil Aviation Authority’s – to enable us to take action. This draft legislation will give us the powers we need to tackle drones when they are being used for criminal purposes.”

Currently, the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code advises flying a drone no higher than 400ft and remaining 500ft from crowds and built up areas. Parliament will consider whether to set this 400ft height in stone, and require drone owners to sit a safety awareness test. The government says it is also working on “geo-fencing” to prevent drones from entering restricted zones.

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg said: “Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops.

“But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns.

“These new laws strike a balance, to allow the vast majority of drone users to continue flying safely and responsibly, while also paving the way for drone technology to revolutionise businesses and public services.”

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In addition to new regulation, from today, the government is accepting applications for £500,000 in funding for R&D into drone technology. Run alongside innovation charity Nesta, five cities will be supported in the research and development of drone technology for critical services.

The Drone (Regulation) Bill was first handed to Parliament at the start of September, and is set for its second reading in February 2019 when the text will likely be published. The proposed measures come as the devices are exploding in popularity; global drone sales are expected to increase tenfold between 2015 and 2021, according to Statista.

The measures come after a drone smashed into an aeroplane wing at Gatwick in July and “put 130 lives in danger”, according to the UK Airprox Board.
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