Drone-owning Brits face clampdown as government moves to make skies safer

DJI Mavic Pro drone
Dan Baker / Digital Trends

Drone owners in the United Kingdom are facing tougher controls on how they use their flying machines, and may have to sit for a safety-awareness test before they’re allowed to send it skyward.

The British government on Sunday announced a move toward implementing laws to give police more powers to prevent the unsafe or criminal use of the remotely controlled copters.

A new bill that could become law next year proposes that all drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) will have to be registered by their owner on a national database when they’re purchased.

The new law could give U.K. police the right to order operators to ground their drone where necessary. “Officers will also be able to seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit an offense,” the Department for Transport said in its Sunday announcement.

Drone operators may also be required to use a designated app before they fly their drone to ensure their location is safe and legal for a flight. Such an app would go some way to tackling the growing problem of drone flights near, for example, airports. So far this year there have been 80 reports of drones buzzing U.K. airports, up from 55 for the same period a year earlier. In the summer, a drone caused major disruption at one of the country’s busiest airports, causing landings and take-offs to be halted twice in the space of an hour.

While the police can currently make use of existing legislation to combat some problematic drone use, a new set of rules specifically concerning drone technology — with new additions such as mandatory drone tests and registration — would give the police additional powers within a more organized framework of regulations.

Complaints in the U.K. regarding drone use reached 3,456 in 2016, nearly three times more than the number reported a year earlier.

They included neighbors complaining about people using drones to spy on them in their backyards, as well as more alarming incidents involving passenger jets. Criminals are also thought to be using drones to study properties ahead of a potential burglary, while others have been using them to fly contraband to prison inmates.

Like many countries around the world, the U.K. authorities are playing catch-up with drone technology, which has grown rapidly in popularity in the last couple of years. This Christmas is expected to be another bumper year for the likes of DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec, which all produce popular consumer drones.

Thinking of getting one yourself? DT has researched the top models, and we’ve also some ideas if you’re looking for a budget bird as your first flying machine.