Britain's Aviation Minister Explains Why We Need New Drone Laws

By Baroness Sugg on at

This week the government has announced plans to pass a new Drone Bill, which will hand police new powers to police when it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles. But what's the thinking behind the plans? Today, Gizmodo UK publishes this exclusive piece from Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg, in which she explains the motives behind the proposal.

The second most common present under the Christmas tree this year will be a drone. I’m not surprised about that – prices have really come down, and having a bird’s eye view of the local park for the first time can be great fun. Get good at flying drones and you can even make a living as professional drone racer, or capture stunning aerial shots for programmes like Blue Planet 2. Of course, drones are more than just for fun – we are seeing drones increasingly used by the emergency services and other workers. North Devon police deployed drones to assist fire services tackling a fire on Exeter high street, which helped save some historic buildings. Drones are now used to direct relief during floods. Farmers are using drones to inspect crops and locate animals, oil workers are using them to safely inspect oil rigs in the North Sea, and roofers are able to get a better look at the pointing on the chimney stack without having to scale a ladder.

Baroness Sugg inspects a drone.

Whether for fun or for work, drones have great potential. They are already a big industry in this country, and used properly they can make many jobs safer and more productive. Experts have said that the global market for businesses using drones could be worth over £100bn by 2025, and that by 2050, 150,000 people across Europe could be employed in jobs working with drones. I want Britain to have as big a share of that drone economy as possible.

But lots of drone companies and users have said they want the laws around drones strengthened and made clearer – so the misuse of drones is prevented, and everyone else is protected. Like any new technology, drones carry risks – such as when they are flown too close to buildings or people on the ground. And the misuse of drones can have extremely serious consequences – we don’t want any close shaves with passenger jets full of holidaymakers.

So in the spring, the government will bring forward new legislation to ensure drones are used safely and to help secure the UK’s place at the forefront of the global drone industry. We want to keep drones out of the wrong hands, back the police with new powers to identify the owners of drones that are being misused, and give law-abiding drone users the knowledge they need to operate the technology safely.

Baroness Sugg meets some students working on drones.

Under our new laws, users of all but the very smallest drones will need to take an online safety awareness test before they take to the skies. Similar to a driving theory test, the drone test will assess users’ knowledge of the rules and make sure they are able to fly safely. When new drone users have passed their test, both they and their drones will be registered as safe to fly. Thanks to this registration system, owners of drones that are being misused will be traceable by police. And under laws we will proposing to Parliament next year, we will also give police the right to search for and seize a drone where there is a reasonable belief that a crime is taking place.

These measures will act as a deterrent to reckless flyers and criminals who know they can be identified, have their drones seized, or be prosecuted. But much more importantly, they will give regular drone users confidence that they are using their drone safely and legally. The government wants to support the proper use of drones, whether for fun or for work, and we want Britain to be a world-leading country for their operation and development. Our new drone laws will secure these aims. So if there’s a drone under your Christmas tree this year, have fun, fly safely, and keep an eye out for the changes in the rules.

Gizmodo UK will no doubt be covering this bill closely as it goes through Parliament - so stay tuned for more coverage soon.