It’s been a difficult week for the UK drone industry, as Gatwick airport has battled severe disruption after sightings of a drone flying within the airport boundary over a 48hr period. BBC news has reported that two people have been arrested in relation to the illegal flying of a drone or drones within a 1km radius of an airport.
As with any hobby where safety is paramount, it only takes one idiot to tarnish an industry's reputation. We are yet to hear what these idiots motives were for causing such reckless ruination of travellers plans, but the backlash towards drones and their use by unlicensed pilots is likely.
Professional drone users are aware that we are in a developing legal landscape, where legislation is being written 'on the hoof' by a government body trying to keep pace with an ever expanding new consumer hobby sector. And with Christmas 2018 upon us, thousands more drones will be unwrapped, charged up and consequently flown into garden hedges across the UK.
Selfie / Nano / toy / drones
Nano drones (Nano drone here made by Simtoo XT175) are small light weight quad copters that are intended for recreational use, and are nearly always under 250g in weight. They can be bought very cheaply, often between £17-£125. On the run up to Christmas week I popped into town and saw over 10 different models for sale in one gadget shop alone. Some have GPS which is certainly a safety feature worth having. But are you inadvertently setting yourself on a course for a whole heap of legal trouble flying one of these toy drones?
The current UK law states that owners of drones under 250g aren't required to pass any kind of tests or registration process. UK drone website Drone Deliver.co.uk spells it out :
The main changes to the law that have come in to effect as of July 30th 2018 are that you cannot fly within 1km of an airport and you cannot fly above 400ft anywhere – these rules were already in place but are now punishable by law.
The UK government have also announced that drone owners with drones that weigh over 250g will now be required to register with the Civil Aviation Authority – although you do have until November 2019 to do so. This means that drones such as the Mavic Air and Parrot Anafi will be required to register.
Could a toy drone stop an aeroplane?
In short, it's extremely unlikely. Most nano drones have a range of 450 feet. The UK law as of July 2018 states a maximum height of 400ft for all drones. All good. And light aircraft won't fly under 1000ft. The CAA states 'In general, unless they are landing or taking off, an aircraft should be 1,000 ft over a built up area or otherwise 500ft from people, buildings etc.' So no worries then - a plane and drone aren't going to meet. But what would happen if you flew your nano drone straight up to 400ft, then lost control as it went out of range? Doh! What if it carried on up? Or just hangs around at an illegal height? At the moment there's no registration needed for small drones, so it would be hard for authorities to trace the pilot. Follow the drone code.
In this video you can see a drone quadcopter hitting a light aircraft wing. You may be surprised by how easily the drone punctured the wing, but bear in mind the aircraft is travelling at a minimum of 100mph. The quad copter cuts into the alloy metal wing like a hot knife through butter in this test, and that's scarey.