The use of drones in the UK and around the world has sky rocketed over the recent years. Drones have become better, smaller, faster, better cameras and now appeal to a huge range of recreational and commercial users. Most users however are still recreational. I use drones a lot, especially on my hikes, both in the UK and abroad.
The rise in popularity does present a growing issue in that several users do now pose a problem for the authorities and public safety. It makes sense that with everything in life there is always a very small percentage of people who abuse something or are just irresponsible with something. Most recreational users are sensible people in life and use common sense to just have fun flying and take some great photos, just like this photo below taken above a beach in Norway.
So, what changed recently? As many know, in July 2018 CAA set a maximum height limit of 400ft from the pilot on the ground and a 1 km exclusion zone around airport boundaries came into force. The default maximum height on a DJI drone is 120m, 393ft so it shouldn't need changing from out of the box. But do remember DJI products are international so the "max altitude" setting can be set all the way up to 500m. Failure to comply with the new restrictions in July 2018 can result in a fine and up to 5 years in prison.
Important Note: In the DJI drone software the maximum height setting is called "max altitude". This is technically the wrong term to use. Both the CAA and FAA define the altitude as the height above sea level. DJI should be using the term height and not Altitude in their software.
But further changes are coming into force in 30th November 2019, primarily these 2 major changes.
Registration of all drones that weigh more than 250 grams. This weight will cover most commercially available drones aimed at recreational use. There are some drones sold less than 250g and those will not require registration, but the DJI family of drones will certainly require it. There are no details from the CAA on how this registration is to be done, but no doubt it will be released nearer the time. Failure to register can result in a fine up to £1000.
Flight competency tests. These will be required, it will apparently be a simple online test to identify if a flyer is deemed as competent. Again, the details for this will be announced before November 2019.
What about future changes? A consultation document was issued last year to further improve the legislation. The exact details of these is yet to be released by the CAA but are likely to include wider airport perimeters and new powers for the police over drones including Fixed Penalty notices. These are likely to be for minor offences of not producing registration for a drone when requested or refusing to land a drone when requested. The penalty notices are likely to be for £100. No doubt other changes will be fed into the legislation over time.
So where are we going with drone legislation? Generally, I think the changes are a positive thing. Ultimately, we want a balance between safety and freedom to have some fun and enjoy.
Something I have noticed is that drone laws around the world are all starting to converge on a similar theme and I strongly suspect in several years most countries will comply to the following basic principles for recreational users:
Require registering/nominal test over a minimal weight
Set a reasonable maximum height
Require line of sight
Reasonable proximity limit for airports, people and property
Some Useful Links
This drone, the DJI Mavic Air is the one I use on most of my hikes.