New inquiry launched into the use of drones

31 March 2017

Following the Department for Transport’s (DofT) December 2016 consultation on ‘Benefits of drones to the UK economy’, on 30 March 2017 the Transport Committee (the Committee) launched an inquiry into civilian drones with the aim of maximising drone technology within a robust safety framework.

To this end the Committee has called for written submissions, particularly in relation to the following:

  • The safety and security risks posed by drones;
  • The role of technology in enabling safe and sustainable growth in the civilian drones sector;
  • The likely effectiveness of key government proposals in its recent consultation, including pilot training and the proposed online registration scheme;
  • The current enforcement arrangements for misuse of drones in the UK;
  • Insurance issues and actions needed to create a viable market for drones insurance; and
  • The economic growth potential of the drones industry in the UK and the government's role in enabling that growth

We agree that the use of drones should be controlled by a safety network. However any change in the law must be clear and easy to follow, especially when the low threshold of reckless or negligent misuse can result in a person facing up to five years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.  A person could also face a fine of up to £2,500 for failing to maintain the correct distance from vehicles, structures and congested areas.

As mentioned previously,  geo-fencing could be added to all drones during the manufacturing process. This technology would prevent them from flying into restricted airspaces, such as airports and prisons, and could also assist the ‘pilot’ in maintaining appropriate distances. The government is currently exploring the use of geo-fencing with manufacturers.

The implementation of such software would go a long way in alleviating fears of drones coming into contact with manned aircrafts. However, as noted in the DofT’s consultation, a competent software engineer would be able to override geo-fencing. If the Committee is to consider the use of geo-fencing they will undoubtedly have to also consider penalties for those who have been found to override this software and fly over a geo-fenced area.

With an emerging global drone market valued at over $127 billion, it is of little surprise that businesses are keen to make use of this technology. However, maintaining the safety and security of the public within a clear legal framework is of paramount importance.

The deadline for written submissions to the Committee is 26th May 2017.

This blog was co-authored by Carl Wheeler, Paralegal in Criminal Litigation.

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