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United Kingdom: Consultation on Additional Drone Regulations Proposed

(Jan. 18, 2017) The Government of the United Kingdom recently issued a consultation document that contains additional proposals for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.  Drone technology is of growing economic importance; it is estimated it will be worth £102 billion (about US$126 billion) by 2025.  The government wishes Britain to become “the global go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors, and the development of new technologies such as drones is key to that … we want to further drive forward progress in the UK drones industry by fostering the right supportive environment.”  (Department for Transport, Unlocking the UK’s High Tech Economy: Consultation on the Safe Use of Drones in the UK (Dec. 21, 2016) (Consultation), at 5, GOV.UK.) The consultation advocates creating a simpler legal framework for drone operators.  (Id.)

Proposals in the Consultation

Since 2014, the House of Lords has been considering whether legislation is needed to better regulate the recreational use of drones.  The House of Lords issued a report in which it noted that advances in technology and a decrease in the cost of drones has led to an inconsistent regulatory framework that currently distinguishes between the commercial and noncommercial use of drones.  This distinction presumed that noncommercial users had a pre-existing knowledge of aviation and the rules of the air; however, advances in technology mean that similar aircraft are being used by commercial and recreational users, but under different regulations.  (HOUSE OF LORDS, EU SELECT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, 7TH REPORT OF SESSION 2014–15, CIVILIAN USE OF DRONES IN THE EU, 2014–15, HL 122, ¶ 40.)

The new proposals include mandatory registration of new drones, increased penalties for flying drones illegally near no-fly zones; new signage for no-fly zones at sensitive sites, such as airports and prisons; and the introduction of a new criminal offense of misusing a drone.  The proposals in the consultation also include making drones identifiable by electronic means so that the police can more easily determine the owner of any drone discovered breaking the law, introducing a commercial drone pilot license, requiring mandatory insurance for drone owners, and establishing a system of drone traffic management.  (Consultation, Part 3.)

Current Laws

Drones are currently covered primarily by the UK’s aviation laws, which are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).  Other areas of law that come into play, particularly if the drone has a camera mounted on it, are data protection, privacy, liability, insurance, export, and intellectual property laws, as well as the common-law torts of nuisance and trespass.  (Peter Lee, Some Thoughts on the Drone Sector…, DRONES AND THE LAW (Feb. 4, 2016).)

The UK’s current laws addressing drones are detailed in Clare Feikert, Regulation of Drones: United Kingdom, part of a Law Library of Congress multinational report, Regulation of Drones (Apr. 2016).