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BBT March/April 2019 cover
March/April 2019

Police given more power over illegal drone use

White drone in flight

The government is giving police new powers to tackle illegal drone use following the disruption experienced at Gatwick in the run-up to Christmas.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling, who was criticised for his initial response to the cancellation of hundreds of flights following drone sightings at Gatwick last month, said the incident was “a stark example of why we must continue to ensure drones are used safely and securely in the UK”.

He reiterated the belief that the drone activity that closed the airport’s runway off and on for a whole day was “deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal”.

From November, it will be a legal requirement for drone operators to register their devices.

It is against the law to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or above 400 feet, but the new legislation – which comes after 5,000 responses to a public consultation – will give police officers the power to land drones and require users to produce documentation. They will also be able to search premises and seize drones, including electronic data stored within the device, when a serious offence takes place and a warrant is secured.

In addition, police will be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences. The government says fines of up to £100 could be given for failing to comply with an officer when instructed to land a drone or not showing their registration to operate the device.

The Home Office is also testing the safe use of anti-drone technology that will detect devices flying near “sensitive sites” such as airports and prisons. Counter measures are also being considered to help prevent a repeat of the Gatwick incident.

Aviation minister Liz Sugg commented: “Drones have the potential to bring significant benefits and opportunities, but with the speed of technological advancement comes risk, and safety and security must be our top priorities. That’s why we are giving the police powers to deal with those using drones irresponsibly. Along with additional safety measures, these will help ensure the potential of this technology is harnessed in a responsible and safe way.”

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