Government consulting on future drone regulation

Today the DfT published a new consultation looking at the future regulatory framework for drones in the UK. At techUK we are fans of drones; they have an incredible set of use cases and deliver economic growth, as seen at our recent conference and could revolutionise transport, industry and public safety. 

Like most consultations government stresses the importance of balancing the opportunities of the new tech with how to manage the potential risks, important given the negative public perception of this tech. However we'd encourage government to look at the positive and we're pleased the document acknowledges that drone technologies saved at least 65 lives in 2017-18. Drones (called Small Unmanned Aircraft, or SUAs in the document) will play a big role in the Industrial Strategy, especially around robotics, AI and autonomous transport so it is great the consultation cites the economic case for drones made in the recent PWC report. So how does the government plan on realising this?

The key policy proposal that DfT seem to be hanging their peg on is the development of Flight Information and Notification System(s) or FINS(s) covering all drones exceeding 250g in weight. This will be a framework for drone users to safely share airspace by emitting and sharing information on location, flight paths, users, type data etc with other airspace users and relevant public bodies. This will be delivered probably via an app, built on open standards and compatible with different platforms, drones and ecosystems and the DfT also have questions on anonymising and making the data within the system available to industry to drive innovation.

The concept of a FINS(s) does seem on the face of it a sensible approach to making sure information is shared and rules are enforced, but it won't be ready unrtil at least 2020 and we look forward to seeing how this is approached. techUK wants a system that promotes, not hinders wider drone use and there are concerns FINS(s) could dissuade people from using this exciting new tech. Any system that requires pre-notifications that make the quick deployment of drones too burdensome will put people off using drones, so the proposed system should be light in required details operators need to submit. Also if FINS(s) is designed in a way that means every flight is monitored and scrutinised, it will create a fear of sanction (fines or litigation) that will dampen the enthusiasm to using drones and such an outcome should be avoided.

DfT don't have a preferred solution on how FINS(s) should work and are open to ideas on funding, what exactly it should include, how it should be delivered and if it would work as a single system or a network of comaptible systems delivered by the private sector. It is the flagshp policy, but there are other policy  proposals in the document, including:

  • A commitment to meeting the requirements of the EU Revised Basic Regulation and EASA Guidance on drones.
  • Reaffirming the previously announced drone registration scheme and competency tests.
  • The introduction a minimum age for drone operators (they propose various ages, but seem to be leaning towards 18).
  • New police powers to mandate drone users to show their registration, land a drone with Fixed Penalty Notices for non-compliance.
  • A review in 2019 of the 1 kilometre exclusion zone around airport and aerodromes that comes into force on 20 July 2018.
  • A new framework for anti-drone and drone-detection technologies.
  • Exemptions for model aircraft flying clubs.

So what next? The consultation runs through the summer and closes on 17 September. Government will then consider the responses and bring forward their proposed outcomes in the form of the Drones and Other Unmanned Aircraft Bill, currently scheduled for 2019.

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