Civilian Use of Drones in the EU - European Union Committee Contents


Concerns regarding leisure use

218.  Several submissions expressed surprise at the Commission's decision not to discuss leisure users in its Communication. Aviation stakeholders took very seriously the risk that a leisure user could cause a catastrophic accident and stunt the development of an RPAS market. In December 2014, the CAA gave an 'A' rating, meaning a serious risk of collision, to an incident on 22 July 2014 involving an RPAS and an Airbus A320 landing at Heathrow airport.[286] BALPA said that if there were more such events, "public perception may well turn against these machines which in turn could delay adoption", a view shared by the Professional Society of Drone Journalists.[287] ARPAS-UK, RSPSoc said that the risk posed by leisure users was "sufficiently large that it be addressed through regulation at a European level."[288]

219.  Mr Meuleman, of BeUAS, said that further consideration of the leisure use of RPAS was required, because "there is hardly any difference any more between toys and professional systems, and certainly in terms of technology, it is just the same."[289] Jaqueline Foster MEP emphasised that it was important to "differentiate how [RPAS] are being used and in what category".[290] The CAA acknowledged that it was important to ensure that "two similar devices being flown in the same location, one used recreationally and one used commercially, are not subject to drastically different regulatory requirements".[291]

220.  Mr Mckenna agreed that regulation of leisure users warranted further examination at an EU level: leisure users contributed a large part to the growing RPAS market, so "manufacturers will seek to meet (create) the demand of the personal user".[292] By way of example, EuroUSC said that 150,000 DJI Phantoms, a popular RPAS for leisure use, were sold globally last year.[293]

221.  The potential benefits from the increased civilian use of RPAS are such that we certainly do not support banning the leisure use of RPAS. However, we believe that the hazard presented by leisure users needs to be addressed. In this chapter, we consider possible short and long term solutions to the risks posed by the leisure use of RPAS.

222.  For the most part, the concerns we heard about the leisure use of RPAS were related to areas of national competence, such as the ability of a national aviation authority to prosecute in the case of a criminal offence. Figure 2 compares the rules for leisure and commercial small RPAS use as derived from the Air Navigation Order 2009, Article 138 of which stipulates that "a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property."[294]

Figure 2: Leisure and commercial small RPAS use in the UK[295]

Solutions in the short term


223.  An important way to mitigate the risk of a catastrophic accident involving an RPAS in the short term is to raise awareness among leisure users of the risks posed by their aircraft. Mr Cremin said:

    "You can go into Maplins today and buy a fairly sophisticated system for about £500. The question, as you quite rightly say, is that when you get the box home, where, first of all, does it tell you that you are buying an aircraft, let alone anything else? These are aircraft. They are viewed in the Air Navigation Order as aircraft, and you have responsibilities under that order, but if I do not know that they are aircraft I do not know how to behave".[296]

224.  This lack of awareness was described as the distinguishing factor between the model aircraft hobbyist community and the emerging leisure user. The British Model Aircraft Association (BMFA) described its members as "informed, committed and conscientious" operators, while characterising the typical leisure user as "an individual flying on an ad hoc or casual basis".[297] It warned that it would be difficult to target leisure users specifically: "The sheer number of multirotor, camera equipped aircraft being sold through a wide variety of outlets" made it "very difficult to target [leisure users] through responsible bodies such as the BMFA or ARPAS."[298]

225.  Some witnesses recommended a focus on the media. The Minister said that a publicity campaign highlighting the dangers of the misuse of RPAS would be helped by the fact that RPAS use was "viewed by the media as a very sexy area: you do not need to say very much before you get a headline and a piece in a newspaper".[299] Chief Inspector Nick Aldworth, of the Metropolitan Police Service, said that his force was considering reaching out to the public through its website, "one of the most frequently visited in London", and social media platforms to share information about the safe use of RPAS.[300]

226.  Given the difficulty of engaging with leisure RPAS users through formal representative bodies, we support the Government and Metropolitan Police Service in seeking to make use of websites and social media platforms to inform the public about how to fly RPAS safely.


227.  The CAA said that it was designing an information leaflet to include in RPAS packaging. The British Model Flying Association and ARPAS-UK recommended working directly with manufacturers, rather than just retailers, to ensure that information explaining the responsibilities of an RPAS pilot was distributed as widely as possible.[301] Firstpersonview said that all the recreational RPAS it sold contained information from the CAA, and that it had the agreement of manufacturers to include information about the responsibilities of RPAS pilots in all shipments to the UK in future.[302]

228.  Mr Meuleman, though, highlighted difficulties implementing a similar strategy in Belgium: "We also had this discussion in Belgium, but I would say the Ministry of Mobility has nothing to say about what is being sold. There is the Ministry of Economy and it is regulated on the European level mostly, so there is a big discrepancy".[303]

229.  Chief Inspector Aldworth suggested that the dissemination of safety information could be co-ordinated at an EU level:

    "The most likely form of European regulation would most probably be on import-export activity and engagement with the manufacturers and to have a consistent approach towards material that comes in, either the capability of the equipment that is being sold or, going back to our education piece, our ability to get people to take messages on our behalf within the material that they are selling." [304]

On the other hand, the Minister cautioned against "prescriptive legislation on this, which we believe might end up being disproportionate and difficult, if not impossible, to oversee."[305]

230.  We commend the work of the UK Civil Aviation Authority in creating a safety message to include in the packaging of RPAS. While the Commission is only proposing regulations for the safe operation of commercial RPAS, we believe it could support Member States by co-ordinating the dissemination of guidance for the leisure use of RPAS, including information on safety and data protection.


231.  In addition to raising awareness, existing technology could also be employed to limit where RPAS are able to fly. Geo-fencing uses geographical information stored on a GPS-equipped RPAS to prevent it from flying in areas selected by the manufacturer. This could be used to limit flights near airports, or above certain altitudes. When an RPAS encounters a bounded area, it can be programmed to fly downward to the ground. BALPA said that a commonly sold RPAS now included this technology, and that consideration should be given to making it mandatory on all but the very lightest of small RPAS.[306] Firstpersonview said that it only sold imported RPAS which were fitted with geo-fencing.[307]

232.  Geo-fencing could be a useful tool for preventing hazardous RPAS flights in sensitive areas, but it is not yet universally available. Over the next year, we recommend that the Government, along with the Commission, should approach industry to assess how this technology could be more widely applied.


233.  As we have already discussed in the context of journalistic and state use of RPAS for surveillance, it will be important for the Government to consult the general public on the implications of the increased civilian use of RPAS. The Communication also states that "progressive integration of RPAS into the airspace from 2016 onwards must be accompanied by adequate public debate on the development of measures which address societal concerns."[308]

234.  The evidence we received highlighted additional reasons why a public consultation on the civilian use of RPAS in the UK might be required. Mr Mckenna compared public perceptions of RPAS flying overhead to the controversy surrounding wind turbines.[309] English Heritage noted that the term 'drone' was often used in the media, and that "its military connotations bring a negative association to many parts of the industry."[310] Mr Cremin, of the Department for Transport, said: "The time is drawing near when we look to have some sort of public dialogue with the general public on the use of RPAS and what they think"[311]. The Government said this was important because this industry "will only be feasible if the general public can be convinced that it is safe to exploit this technology".[312]

235.  The Minister confirmed that a cross-Government working group on RPAS was planning a series of public engagement events to take place during the summer of 2015. These events would aim to "better understand the public's perception and their concerns about the use of unmanned aircraft in the UK." The Government was at an early stage in planning these events, but they would take place in several locations around the UK, "drawing on a wide range of people from all walks of life to discuss the prominent issues with operating these systems in the UK. This work will help to shape and inform future government policy in this area."[313]

236.  We endorse the Government's plans to consult the general public on acceptable future uses for RPAS.

Solutions in the long term

237.  Awareness of existing regulations would be reinforced by effective prosecution of those who break the rules. ARPAS-UK and the British Model Flying Association both said that while work was underway to educate leisure users, "little is being done with regard to enforcement".[314] Dr Wolfe, of Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd, said that improving enforcement was essential in creating a deterrent to operators who might well otherwise act outside the legislative framework in the belief that there would be no prosecution.[315]


238.  Concerns were raised in the evidence regarding the CAA's capacity to regulate the increasing numbers of RPAS. Mr McKenna, ARPAS-UK and the British Model Flying Association, all said that they did not think the CAA had the human resources necessary to enforce the regulations for RPAS use.[316] On the other hand, the Minister told us: "There will certainly need to be more resource committed by regulatory bodies in the short to medium term, but this does not necessarily translate to an increase in headcount in regulatory bodies themselves."[317]

239.  A number of stakeholders also questioned whether the CAA was the appropriate body in the UK to carry out enforcement of existing legislation for leisure users.[318] Chief Inspector Aldworth said that the CAA had very little statutory authority over the leisure use of RPAS unless that use breached the Air Navigation Order. He said that there were real limitations as to what the CAA could achieve, considering the volume and type of complaints that might be "coming around the corner".[319]

240.  ARPAS-UK and the British Model Flying Association recommended that the police, rather than the CAA, be empowered to enforce rules and laws relating to RPAS.[320] Chief Inspector Aldworth said that the Metropolitan Police was increasingly dealing with RPAS-related offences itself, instead of referring them on to the CAA, a move the CAA had welcomed.[321]

241.  Mr Sivel, of JARUS, said that in order for the police in the EU to take on this role effectively, "very simple rules that any non-aviation person can understand" would be needed.[322] Mr Phippard, of Bird and Bird LLP, recommended that every policeman in the UK should know the relevant provisions under the Air Navigation Order, so that quick action could be taken in the event of an offence.[323] However, Chief Inspector Aldworth noted that the distance restrictions in the Air Navigation Order were "not easy legislation for a street police officer to enforce", because they relied on witnesses and officers being able accurately to judge distances in the air. He added that the Air Navigation Order provided no power of seizure: "the ability to retain evidence and perhaps interrogate it further would be challenging."[324]

242.   Chief Inspector Aldworth also said that a police working group was considering how existing legislation for public order or harassment offences could be applied when the offence had been committed using an RPAS.[325] He said that this group consisted of half a dozen police officers from around the country tasked with creating clear national guidance on how to enforce the law with regards to RPAS.[326] One way to create clear guidance was to record incidents in which officers intervened where an RPAS was breaching the law, when these interventions led to prosecution, and why.[327]

243.  We are convinced by the evidence we have received that the workload of regulators at EU and at Member State level, be they for aviation safety or public order, will increase in the near future, as the use of RPAS grows. We urge that regulators be sufficiently resourced to deal with this.

244.  Due to the increasing scope for RPAS-related offences and the limited resources of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, we support greater police involvement in enforcing existing laws with regard to the misuse of RPAS. We welcome plans to produce guidance for police officers on how to apply RPAS safety legislation in the UK. We encourage other Member States to consider a similar approach.


245.  Chief Inspector Aldworth said enforcement of existing laws was made difficult by the fact that it was not always possible to identify the owner of any given RPAS: "Unless there is a sound and unarguable way of finding and identifying the pilot, there is nowhere to start quite frankly."[328] Mr David Smith, of the Information Commissioner's Office, said:

    "With most CCTV cameras, even if it is not immediately obvious, you should fairly easily be able to track down the operator. With a camera phone, someone is holding it. If you see a RPAS buzzing around, who is controlling it? Where are they? Who is responsible?"[329]

246.  Some witnesses therefore recommended the introduction of a licensing regime.[330] Captain Andy Brown, of BALPA, compared this to a TV licence, which would provide contact details of the owner and a means to trace them.[331] Gary Clayton, of UAVS, agreed in principle with the idea of licensing, but added, "you have to be careful not to stifle the entrepreneurs at the same time".[332] Chief Inspector Aldworth said that this was something under consideration in the police working group, although: "there would be many challenges such as who administers the process." He added that licensing might not provide a complete solution to the problem—even if ownership of an RPAS could be confirmed, the owner might not be the same person as the pilot at the time the offence was committed.[333]

247.  It would also be helpful to enforcement agencies to be able to track RPAS while in flight. ARPAS-UK and the British Model Flying Association suggested that "some form of digital identity chip", including the details of the owner, could be installed in leisure RPAS. They went on to say that each owner could be required to "register their details with the manufacturer who shares these details on an online database."[334] Mr Sivel said: "when my children are going somewhere and I do not know where they are, with my iPhone I can see where they are. So a type of chip, why not?" He added that this would assist police officers in identifying RPAS owners and prosecuting them if they were breaking the law.[335]

248.  We have already recommended the creation of an online database through which commercial RPAS pilots can provide details of their flights to inform other airspace users. We heard compelling arguments as to why the leisure use of RPAS presents risks to the general public and other airspace users. Therefore, in the long term, we foresee the need for a system which can track and trace all RPAS, especially those flying below 500ft, irrespective of whether they are flown by commercial or leisure pilots. This will be essential not only to manage the increased traffic in the sky, but also to enforce existing and future laws governing RPAS use.


249.  Throughout the inquiry, we were told that RPAS have the potential to revolutionise the aviation industry, with far-reaching consequences for other industries. Mr Cremin and Mr Bregman compared the use of RPAS to the development of the Internet. [336] Mr Bregman noted that in the early days of the Internet "trust was scarce":

    "It would have been tempting in the early 1990s to attempt to address the Internet problems of the day through traditional legislation. This might have led to ever-increasing prohibitions against identity theft, credit card fraud, and misrepresentation. But it would not have led to Verisign and Thawte. Likewise, I do not believe that traditional legislation should attempt to solve the problem entirely. It should instead be focused on providing a safe means for the market to develop innovations to regulate itself."[337]

250.  The Minister compared thinking about the future of RPAS to predictions made in 'Tomorrow's World':

    "In the 1960s or 1970s … they would discover this wonderful new technology and predict how it would be in 10 or 20 years' time. They usually did find a technology that was going to have applications, but they correctly predicted neither how it would be developed nor how it would be used. We need to make sure that whatever we do as a Government now we do not tie ourselves into future predictions both of the technology and of the application. It is important that we have that degree of flexibility."[338]

251.  The civilian use of RPAS has the potential to bring aviation into all industries. It is important that rules developed by the Commission and Member States enable growth in the industry and development of technology for the future.

286   'Heathrow plane in near miss with drone', BBC News, (7 December 2014), [accessed on 12 February 2015] Back

287   Written evidence from BALPA (RPA0031) and the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (RPA0032) Back

288   Written evidence from ARPAS-UK and UAV Sig, of RSPSoc (RPA0005)  Back

289    Q131 Back

290    Q106 Back

291   Written evidence from the UK CAA (RPA0029) Back

292   Written evidence from Alan McKenna (RPA0025) Back

293   Written evidence from EuroUSC (RPA0037) Back

294   The Civil Aviation Authority, 'Basic Principles': [accessed on 25 February 2015] Back

295   i The Air Navigation Order defines a congested area as being "any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes". Permission must be obtained from the CAA to land or operate within a congested area. Permissions granted may be valid for one flight or for a period of up to 12 months;

ii Articles 166-167 Air Navigation Order. See Box 1;

iii  Q164. Nick Aldworth, Metropolitan Police, said that the Public Order Act 1986 and Sexual Offences Act 2003 could be used to prosecute the misuse of RPAS by leisure users. Back

296    Q10 Back

297   Written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0043) Back

298   Written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0043) and ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) Back

299    Q179 Back

300    Q173 Back

301   Supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) and written evidence from ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) Back

302   Written evidence from Firstpersonview (RPA0045) Back

303    Q131 Back

304    Q174 Back

305    Q180 Back

306   Supplementary written evidence from BALPA (RPA0041) Back

307   Written evidence from Firstpersonview (RPA0045) Back

308   Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: A new era for aviation: Opening the aviation market for the civil use of remotely piloted aircraft systems in a safe and sustainable manner, COM(2014) 607, p 5 Back

309   Written evidence from Alan McKenna (RPA0025) Back

310   Written evidence from AM-UAS (RPA0006)  Back

311   Q10 Back

312   Written evidence from the Department for Transport (RPA0011)  Back

313    Q178  Back

314   Written evidence from ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) and supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) Back

315    Q30 Back

316   Written evidence from Alan McKenna (RPA0025), ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) and supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) Back

317    Q184 Back

318   Written evidence from Alan McKenna (RPA0025), ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) and supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) Back

319    Q166 Back

320   Written evidence from ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) and supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) Back

321    Q166  Back

322    Q57 Back

323    Q145 Back

324    Q172 Back

325    Q162 Back

326    Q165 Back

327    Q170 Back

328    Q169 Back

329    Q150 Back

330    Q30 (Dr Sue Wolfe), and  Q45 (Andy Brown) Back

331    Q45 Back

332    Q45 Back

333    Q167 Back

334   Supplementary written evidence from ARPAS-UK (RPA0047) and supplementary written evidence from the British Model Flying Association (RPA0051) Back

335    Q58 Back

336    Q8 (Paul Cremin), Written evidence from Jay Bregman (RPA0049)  Back

337   Written evidence from Jay Bregman (RPA0049). Verisign and Thawte began as companies providing certification for websites created on the Internet.  Back

338    Q176 Back

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