New powers for UK Police to restrict illegal drone use

Britain’s police forces are to receive tough new powers to curb the illegal use of drones following December’s shutdown of Gatwick Airport when drones were spotted near the UK hub’s runway.

The minister in charge at the Department for Transport (DfT), transport secretary Chris Grayling, said today in a statement: “The disruption caused by drones to flights at Gatwick airport last month was deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal. It meant days of chaos and uncertainty for over 100,000 passengers at Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year.”

He added: “I am clear that, when caught, those responsible should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for this hugely irresponsible criminal act, and I want to assure the House that my department is working extremely closely with airports, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Civil Aviation Authority and the police to make sure our national airports are fully prepared to manage any repeat of what was an unprecedented incident.”

The proposed new powers include allowing the police to request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offence being committed, as well as enabling the police to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offences.

Said Grayling: “They will provide an immediate deterrent to those who might misuse drones or attempt to break the law.”

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has been running a public education campaign about the safe use of drones, while in July 2018 the government introduced new measures that barred drones from flying above 400 ft and within 1 km of protected airport boundaries.

In addition, the government had – before the Gatwick incident – passed legislation that will mean that from November 2019 all drone operators must register and all drone pilots complete a competency test.

Added Grayling: “However, we now intend to go further. Today’s measures set out the next steps needed to ensure that drones are used in a safe and secure way and that the industry is accountable. At the same time these steps will ensure that we harness the benefits that drones can bring to the UK economy.”

"The majority of drone users fly safely and responsibly, but we must ensure that the police have the right powers to deal with illegal use.“

As a result of the Gatwick threat, the Ministry of Defence remains on standby to deal with any further problems at any UK airport if required.

Said Grayling: “We must also ensure that the most up-to-date technology is available to detect, track and potentially disrupt drones that are being used illegally, so we have also consulted on the further use of counter-drone technology. Those consultation responses will now be used by the Home Office to develop an appropriate means of using that technology in the UK.”

The proposed stricter laws were announced as the government today published the outcome of its recent consultation, ‘Taking flight: the future of drones in the UK,’ which drew 5,000 responses.

Said Grayling: “Those responses underlined the importance of balancing the UK’s world-leading position in aviation safety and security with supporting the development of this emerging industry.”

While drone incursions at Gatwick and the subsequent purchase of commercial anti-drone technology by Heathrow  Airport have captured public attention the DfT is aware of drones’ positive use by UK businesses.

Said Grayling: “The UK is where technology companies want to build their businesses, invest in innovation and use science and engineering to bring immense benefits to this country. Drones are at the forefront of these technological advances and are already being used in the UK to great effect.”

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