House of Commons Library

Civilian drones

Published Monday, February 11, 2019

This paper outlines current regulations for the use of recreational and commercial drones in the UK. It also presents recent policy development in the UK and internationally, as well as emerging technological and regulatory issues related to drone integration into domestic airspace.

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The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the independent statutory authority responsible for regulating civil aircraft, including drones. Relevant legislation is contained chiefly in the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and the Air Navigation Order 2016, as amended, with detailed guidance set out in the CAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance.

Aviation is a reserved matter, meaning that drone policy and legislation are primarily the responsibility of the UK Government through the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT have conducted two consultations since 2016 covering various aspects of drone policy. Several proposals, including new operating restrictions and a registration scheme, have subsequently been introduced.

Some of the enforcement issues surrounding drones are not aviation-related and, therefore, do not fall within the CAA and DfT’s remit. The police, for example, hold responsibility for the enforcement of drone activities for criminal and terrorist purposes.

Drones have been in the headlines following the disruption caused in December 2018 when Gatwick Airport closed after several reports of drone sightings. This disrupted several thousands of passengers whose flights were either cancelled or significantly delayed during the nearly 36 hours in which the airport was closed.

There does not appear to be a ready-made solution available to airports to effectively monitor and prohibit drones from entering the airspace around an airport. The Secretary of State, in the immediate period following the Gatwick incident, announced that new police powers would be introduced allowing the police to: request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offence being committed; and issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offences. The Government is also planning on extending the 1km restrictions on drone use around airports.

The European Union has voted to harmonise drone regulation and to assume competence currently held by Member States. The European Commission, with the help of the European Aviation Safety Agency, is working on more detailed rules, including implementing and delegated regulations. The Regulation states that implementing rules shall be adapted to the new Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 no later than 12 September 2023. The UK’s existing regulations generally align with those being introduced as part of the new EU regulations, so the practical impact of these reforms is not likely to be significant. Whether EU regulations continue to apply post-Brexit remain to be seen and depend on the outcomes of Brexit.  

Information on other aviation-related matters can be found on the Aviation Topical Page of the Parliament website.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7734

Author: Andrew Haylen

Topics: Aviation, Research and innovation

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