Police to crack down on drones flown dangerously

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

Published
image source, Getty Images
image captionDrones have hugely increased in popularity in recent years with hundreds of thousands now being used by hobbyists and businesses in the UK

Police in the UK are being given new powers to crack down on people flying drones irresponsibly or illegally, with dedicated teams on the lookout for those breaking the rules.

Last week a drone user was fined more than £5,000 for flying illegally over MI6's building in central London.

Police working for Operation Foreverwing can now confiscate drones being flown dangerously.

They will also be able to issue on-the-spot fines.

The Home Office, which worked closely with the police in setting up Operation Foreverwing in March, said that officers will be given "the tools needed to tackle drone misuse".

This will include specialist equipment, vehicles and training.

"This represents a landmark moment for the UK in tackling this new and developing threat," said Shaun Hipgrave, Home Office director responsible for counter-drones.

Under the rules, anyone operating a drone that either weighs 250 grams or more, or one fitted with a camera, has to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Those with drones weighing more than 250 grams must also pass a test on the CAA website.

"We've had 200,000 registrations since the system was set up in November 2019 but we think that there are many more out there unregistered, potentially tens of thousands," said Jonathan Nicholson, from the CAA.

"Our prime concern is about aviation safety and how aircraft and drones can legally share airspace. So the emphasis is on the drone user, because it is much more likely they will see a helicopter or light aircraft, than the pilot of those will see a drone."

He said that the rules for registered, larger drones were "common sense" and include:

  • stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields
  • don't fly closer than 50m (164ft) to people and don't fly over them
  • never fly over crowds
  • keep 150m away from built-up areas

Those flouting the rules face fines, and anyone endangering aircraft could receive a prison sentence of up to five years.

New threat

As well as safety and privacy issues, the police are also concerned about the use of drones for illegal activities such as smuggling drugs into prisons.

Police will be on the lookout for drones, amid some high-profile events happening in the UK, including the current Euro 2020 football competition, and the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November.

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