With drones (or “unmanned aerial vehicles” i.e. UAVs) becoming ever more popular and accessible to both commercial operators or consumer hobbyists alike, new rules and regulations have been put into place to streamline the rules for use of drones. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has released new UK drone regulations, to come into effect on 30 November 2019. The key points are:
- Registration of your drone will become mandatory;
- Owners of drones weighing between 250g – 20kg need to be registered as the legal owner or operator (“Operator ID”);
- If you fly a drone weighing between 250g – 20kg (whether you own it or not), a free online competency test (comprising 20 multiple choice questions and carrying a pass mark of 16) must be taken. If you pass, you will qualify for Flyer ID.
- There is an age limit of 18 to get an Operator ID, and an age limit of 13 to get a Flyer ID. Those younger than these ages will need a parent or adult to register and take legal responsibility;
- Drone users will have to pay £9 every year to register as an operator with the CAA.
Mandatory tests and a competency assessment are being imposed by the CAA. The registration portal has now opened and can be found at https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/individual.
New laws designed to protect airspace
These new laws are designed to try and improve public and airspace safety. This comes in the wake of events involving near-misses between drones and aircraft. The UK Airprox Board figures show that there were 125 near-misses reported in 2018. In addition, a number of airports have had to suspend flights for hours due to drone activities. The police should now be able to identify the owners of any rogue drones. It is also hoped that this will encourage people to ensure they are competent pilots and have requisite insurance.
Registration and passing the online test will give the operator a unique code that must be displayed on the drone. This assists with tracking down a drone should it go missing. This is an additional service the CAA is looking to start, in the hope that it will increase the chances of owners being reunited with their drones. It should also make it easier to track drones and enforce penalties and criminal sanctions against owners who do not comply with the regulations.
How will this affect mid-sized businesses?
There are a number of businesses who benefit from the use of drones, from professional photography to construction to farming. As they become more common and accessible, the use of drones will become easier to use and more commercial. Regulations imposing assessments and competency testing, along with insurance, should make businesses more comfortable integrating this technology into their businesses.
Most commercial pilots are already doing what the vast majority of the new regulations are bringing in. It has been the hobbyist, most of the time, that has caused a number of the issues reported in the press. The hope is that the law will create a safer platform for the use of drones. This will create more positive press coverage and therefore more comfort in traditional industries adopting this technology, such as construction.
To clarify, registration must be made in the name of the individual who will own and/or fly the drone as opposed to a business. The rationale is that under the new regulations, individuals carry legal responsibility. If something goes wrong, legal responsibility lies with a specific person. Therefore, business owners should be aware they will not be able to register the company as the legal owner of the drone to limit their liability for infringing actions.
Mid-sized businesses should ensure that they keep on top of their drone registration and continue to pay the £9 annual registration fee.
The new regulations should give businesses comfort that, when engaging with a company to pilot drones, each operator has personally had to undergo training, risk assessment and registration. This adds a further level of comfort to the competency of the operators
What are the implications of not abiding by the rules?
Those who own or fly drones should take the new laws and regulations seriously and ensure that they are fully compliant. You will be breaking the law if you cannot prove that you have registered and passed the online course. Those who have not registered their drone or passed the online test by the deadline is at risk of facing a fine of up to £1,000.
The government have also been in talks about implementing a new Drone Bill. This will include enforcement enabling the police to issue on-the-spot fines.
What should your business be doing to prepare?
Check the weight of the drone falls within the weights stipulated under the new laws (i.e. 250g – 20kg). If it does, which it is likely to do, consider who within your business has legal responsibility for your drone(s). This is the person required to take the online test. That person must ensure that they have the relevant knowledge to do so. All the information required to take the test will be contained in a new Drone and Model Aircraft Code.
A business should create a risk assessment and drone operating plan. This is evidence of compliance with the regulations and will also assist with getting insurance and securing tenders for business. It also ensures a safe and secure platform for them to operate. You will need to take into account the site, weather and population where the drone will be used. Don’t forget any additional permissions that may be required such as flying over London for example.
Remember that it remains the pilot’s responsibility to be aware of the general rules of flying drones safely. This includes always ensuring that it is in sight and keeping the right distances between the drone, people and property. If the business needs to fly drones overseas, the UK registration will not be valid outside of the UK. Ensure that the pilot checks with the relevant authority in the chosen destination for local requirements for flying drones.
Don’t forget privacy and insurance
Operators must have suitable GDPR/ data protection policies and practices in place with regards to the photographs and personal data that a drone will inevitably be securing
It needs to be clear who the insurance will be covering for the flight and who is liable for health and safety during the flight. There are typically many parties involved. For example, the end client who owns the site, contractors working on the site and even third-party drone operators. It needs to be clear who is responsible for what and who’s insurance applies. Ambiguity, if there is an issue, can cause legal disputes or delay.
Finally, make sure to stay up to date with the news on this topic. Read up as much as possible on the issues surrounding drones to ensure that you do not fall foul of the new regulations. This includes the new changes in Europe which will be in force across the EU by mid-2020.
Karen Holden is the Managing Director & Founder of A City Law Firm who practise both commercial law and litigation, having been admitted to the roll in 2005. If you require further advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact [email protected]
A City Law Firm Limited is a leading entrepreneurial law firm in the city of London, with a dynamic and diverse team of lawyers. It was awarded most innovative law firm, London 2016 and Business Law firm 2017. They specialise in start-up business law, the tech industry, IP and investment.