Commercial and recreational drone use in the UK Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Current regulations

1.We recognise the importance of extending Flight Restriction Zones to five kilometres. However, these restriction zones are not clearly or consistently enforced. The lack of a standardised process results in inconsistent denials and permissions being granted to those applying. This is unacceptable. (Paragraph 24)

2.The Government should commission the production of a standardised and unified system through which drone operators can request access to Flight Restriction Zones. This could be achieved by working with National Air Traffic Services on its development of an Airspace User’s Portal. This should be completed no later than summer 2020. (Paragraph 25)

3.There is a compelling case that the Government should introduce a registration scheme to be able to identify all lawful operators and to ensure that there is a knowledge test for drone users. Flying a drone is a skill and therefore it is appropriate for there to be a test to make sure the operator is fit to operate a drone. (Paragraph 32)

4.The Government, or the appropriate regulatory body, such as the Civil Aviation Authority, should review the online test one year after it has been in operation. Specifically, the Government should determine if it is an adequate test for ensuring safe drone use. (Paragraph 33)

5.If the registration fee dissuades individuals from registering, then this defies the purpose of the system—to improve the safety of our airspace. The Government should conduct a review of the cost of the registration scheme. If the Government believes it is appropriate for the fee to remain at £16.50, then they should clearly set out their rationale for the cost and the renewal period should be three years rather than yearly. (Paragraph 38)

6.We recommend that the Government consider a system which allows organised clubs and societies to register as one entity, so as not to financially burden each member. However, it must be mandatory for every individual user to adhere to the required safety standards. The Government should set out in response to this Report whether this should be demonstrated by the completion of an online test or an obligation on clubs to ensure their members have appropriate safety standards. (Paragraph 41)

7.The Government should acknowledge that the proposed registration scheme will do little to mitigate the risks from nefarious drone users who will simply bypass registration and testing. Penalties for those who avoid registration should be set out clearly in the forthcoming Drones Bill. Penalties for those who avoid registration should be set out clearly in the forthcoming Drones Bill. We recommend a sliding scale of penalties for failure to register, starting with a warning, and culminating in a fine and a prison sentence. (Paragraph 46)


8.It is vital that the Government respects recreational drone use and model flying communities and ensures that any further regulation or legislation does not dissuade people from joining such communities. (Paragraph 52)

9.The Government does not appear to have made any independent assessment of the potential economic benefits and opportunities that arise from the growing drone industry. To properly harness the benefits of drones the Government will need to analyse their potential economic contribution. The Government should provide an assessment of how the growing drone industry might contribute to the UK’s economy by the time of the 2020 Spring Statement. This should focus on the regulatory requirements and the technological advancements required for innovations, such as parcel delivery and human transportation. Further, it should investigate the potential environmental impact of these innovations and in particular the potential for commercial drone use to contribute to decarbonisation of the economy. It should then set out a strategy and a timeframe required for any actions it wishes to take and should publish its findings no later than Autumn 2020. (Paragraph 63)

10.Drones can have a positive effect on society, including through medical delivery and emergency service provision. By utilising drones, emergency services can conduct missions that were previously unsafe or not possible, as well as being able to respond quicker to incidents. We are encouraged to see the Government has allowed exemptions for emergency services to use drones beyond the visual line of sight in their operations, however, this provision does not apply to other organisations (such as Mountain Rescue) who might be involved in emergency service-led rescue missions. The Civil Aviation Authority should make it possible for organisations which are used in emergency missions to apply for emergency service exemptions to the Air Navigation Order 2016. (Paragraph 70)


11.We are concerned that there are differing accounts within the aviation community about the likely severity of damage of a drone collision with an airplane. Furthermore, there are differing accounts of the number of near misses and the reliability of airprox reports has been disputed. The Committee is concerned that there is no agreed position on the likely consequences of a drone-airplane impact. The Government should complete a substantive risk assessment of the risks drones pose to manned commercial aircraft and publish the findings of this assessment by the end of 2020. If it is not possible to publish the result of this assessment due to security concerns, the Government must provide this Committee with evidential assurances that this work has been done. (Paragraph 79)

12.The Government should introduce temporary drone flight restriction zones around helicopter landing zones. The Government should publish findings from a review on this and legislate accordingly within the next twelve months. (Paragraph 83)

13.The Government should consider rolling out geo-fencing as a compulsory measure around prisons and high security areas. (Paragraph 88)

14.There are considerable risks to safety arising from drones, and we welcome that the Government will be addressing malign and criminal drone use in its forthcoming Drones Bill. (Paragraph 93)

15.The Government should introduce the Drones Bill by November 2019. Once the Bill has been passed and come into force, the Government must keep under review the success of the legislation in enabling the police to better tackle criminal and negligent behaviour. 12 months after enactment, the Government should publish an analysis of the success of the legislation, ensuring that it asks law enforcement agencies directly if they feel that the increase in their powers has helped them to better tackle criminal drone use. The Government must then respond accordingly to any issues that are raised. (Paragraph 94)

16.We recommend the Government make the weaponisation of a drone a specific criminal offence within the upcoming Drones Bill and consider stringent penalties for those who take such action, such as those introduced in the USA. (Paragraph 95)

17.We recommend that the Ministry of Defence make malicious drone use a top intelligence priority. (Paragraph 96)

18.Though the images of individuals collected by commercial drones are protected by legislation, educating the public and drone users about data collection is key to addressing concerns over privacy. We note the assurances that current cameras are not high definition enough to capture identifiable photos and that this may be true now but with technological developments and advancements the risk to privacy is likely to increase over time. The upcoming Drones Bill should clarify the legislation in relation to the privacy risks posed by drones for i) commercial users; and ii) recreational users. Furthermore, the Government should ensure that the Drones Bill makes clear that it is a criminal offence for both a private drone user and a commercial operator to capture an individual’s data without their consent, and what the penalties are for such action. This information should then be made available to both drone operators and the general public via the Drone Code. (Paragraph 103)

Drone safety education

19.The Government should mandate that a copy of the Drone Code is provided with each drone sold in the UK. The Drone Code should also be publicised in common drone flying areas. This should be rolled out as quickly as possible and implemented in full no later than the end of April 2020. (Paragraph 114)

20.National Qualified Entities (NQEs) are key for providing necessary drone education to commercial drone users in the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority needs to monitor the effectiveness and adequacy of NQEs annually and report areas of concern to the Secretary of State. If NQEs do not meet the required standard there must be a mechanism for terminating their right to operate. (Paragraph 117)

21.The CAA should introduce periodic re-assessment of commercial drone users and a compulsory renewal of their licence to ensure that they are up-to-date with technology advances and legislative changes. (Paragraph 118)

Technology required

22.The Government should ensure all drones, including existing drones, are electronically conspicuous within two years. (Paragraph 124)

23.There is no justifiable reason why a drone should not have in-built safety features as standard. The Government must ensure that all manufacturers include safety features, such as geo-fencing and electronic conspicuity as standard in their drones. Further, it should be a criminal offence to disable such features. Penalties for doing so should be set out clearly in the forthcoming Drones Bill. (Paragraph 131)

24.The Government should also ensure that all existing drones are retrofitted with electronic conspicuity within the next two years. (Paragraph 132)

25.As aviation crosses borders and the use of drones is taking place internationally, it is important that the UK engages in best practice and knowledge sharing with other countries. The Government should continue to pursue its ambition to stay in the European Aviation Safety Agency after Brexit. Further, the Government should seek to secure international agreement on international mandatory standards for drones. (Paragraph 136)

26.The Government must establish and fund further testing facilities in which Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems and related technologies, including beyond visual line of sight operations, can be tested. Clear plans should be set out for this as soon as possible and further testing should begin no later than Summer 2020. (Paragraph 142)

27.The Government should seek to publish its counter-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) strategy by Spring 2020 and this should include clarifications on whether the Government intends to amend legislation to enable certain organisations such as the police to use jamming technologies. (Paragraph 149)

Vision for the future

28.We recognise that drone technology is moving at pace, carrying with it a multitude of opportunities and risks. The Government needs to act to ensure that it can stay ahead of the curve in the future. The Government should produce a White Paper by Summer 2020 that outlines the vision for how drones will be integrated into UK communities over the coming years. At a minimum, the White Paper should cover the role of registration, regulation, maximising the opportunities, minimising the risks, drone safety education and the technology required in order to implement their vision of drone integration into society in the next 20 years. The document should also set out a clear roadmap that outlines the steps that the Government and other agencies will take to achieve this future vision. (Paragraph 156)

29.The Government should open a dialogue with UK universities working on drones to discuss how they might best be classified and funded to ensure that the requirement to register as commercial operators does not hamper innovation and development of the industry. A comprehensive and clear regime should be established to facilitate academic development work no later than Summer 2020. (Paragraph 159)

30.Technological advancement is needed for drones to be utilised successfully and with optimal results for society. The Government should set out how it intends to provide support and funding to current testbeds at universities and whether there is an appetite to create more testbeds. It should announce its plans and funding expectations by the end of 2019. (Paragraph 161)

31.There is a notable distrust towards drones among the general public that needs addressing if the UK is to maximise the opportunities presented by drones. The Government should act to improve public perception and awareness of drones by launching a public awareness campaign, no later than Summer 2020, that highlights the opportunities presented by drones and informs the public on the reality of the risks posed by drones. This issue should also be addressed in the White Paper that we have called for in this Report. (Paragraph 164)

Published: 11 October 2019