The rules around drone use are being reviewed in many regions as the technology accelerates and commercial companies apply pressure to exploit the tech.
Just yesterday, for instance, the European Parliament backed a report calling for an EU-wide framework to be developed to address concerns about safety and privacy while also seeking to support commercial uses for drones. But while politicians work on their balancing act, drone owners are left flying in something of a grey area.
The current U.K. rules around flying drones relate to the 2009 Air Navigation Order — articles 166 and 167 of which state that anyone flying a “small unmanned aircraft” or “small unmanned surveillance aircraft”, must:
- Keep the drone within ‘line of sight’ at all times, that is no more than 400ft vertically and 500m horizontally
- Take responsibility for avoiding collisions with other people or objects – including aircraft
- Not fly the drone over a congested area (streets, towns and cities)
- Not fly the drone within 50m of a person, vehicle, building or structure, or overhead large assemblies of people, such as spectators at sporting events or concerts
- Obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to use a drone for any kind of paid work or commercial activity
Which does rather suggest that anyone flying a drone in a U.K. city currently risks breaking the law — unless they’re doing so in a very large, empty park. Those same rules would also make it almost impossible for a company such as Amazon, which has been working on drone delivery at its R&D lab in Cambridge, to get its Prime Air service off the ground here.
Yesterday the first person in the U.K. was convicted of flying a drone illegally. The Met police report on the case notes that the 42-year-old man, who pled guilty to a total of seven offenses under the Air Navigation Order, flew his drone over buildings and congested areas in London — including crowded football stadia, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and The Shard.
The man had reportedly posted video of one of his drone football stadium flyovers to YouTube last September, which presumably led to his arrest. He was fined and banned from owning, flying or assisting anyone else flying a drone for the next two years.
It’s notable for being the first such conviction in the U.K. — suggesting the authorities are taking a softly, softly approach to enforcing existing regulations against drone hobbyists. Albeit it’s a reminder that pretty strict limits already exist and many drone users may well be breaking the law without realizing it.