7 Dec 2014

Could your Christmas drone land you in hot water?

Air safety chiefs are investigating the first near-miss between a passenger jet and a drone near Heathrow. As many get ready to unwrap the must-have present, we ask: what are your rights?


The UK Airprox Board (UKAB), which will publish its findings on Friday, is expected to record an incident risk rating of A – the highest of five categories – defined as a “serious risk of collision”.

The pilot reported the incident to the UKAB who launched an inquiry, however the owner of the drone has never been identified.

Watch: Is drone revolution a threat to national security? - video

But with thousands of the machines expected to be unwrapped on Christmas morning, many people may not realise that by the afternoon, they could be breaking the law.

So where can you fly?

According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), you can fly an unmanned aircraft as long as you are more than 50m away from people, vehicles, buildings or structures, as well as overhead planes.

However, flying a drone over streets, towns, cities as well as airports and airfields could land you a hefty fine of £5,000 and possibly a criminal prosecution.

In April, Robert Knowles of Barrow-in-Furness became the first person to be convicted in the UK for “dangerously” flying a drone within 50m of the Jubilee Bridge on the Walney channel. He was fined £800 and ordered to pay costs of £3,500 at the Furness and District Magistrate court.

In another case, a 41-year-old man was arrested for flying a drone over a football stadium during the Manchester City’s home game with Tottenham Hotspur in October.

What can’t you do?

If you’re planning on gliding your drone to capture images of high-end properties, you could be in breach of the person’s privacy.

So how can you use a drone fitted with a camera responsibly?

The Information Commissioner’s Office recommends:

  • Let people know before you start recording
  • Consider your surroundings
  • Find out how capable your camera is before recording
  • Plan your flight
  • Keep your drone in view
  • Think before sharing online
  • Keep the images safe

Earlier this year airline pilots’ association Balpa demanded better protection for the public against the risks of drones.

It wants drones, officially known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), which share airspace with passenger and freight airliners, to meet the same safetystandards as piloted aircraft. It includes only being flown by operators with pilot-equivalent training.

The UK should become a ‘safe drone zone.’ Balpa

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: ”The UK should become a ‘safe drone zone’ so we can make the most of the major business and leisure opportunities offered by remotely piloted aircraft, while protecting passengers, pilots and residents.

”The technology is developing quickly and we could see remote aircraft the same size as a Boeing 737 being operated commercially in our skies within 10 years.”

With drones costing from just £35 to £3,350 and sales rising from the normal level of around 2,000 a month, there may be more issues ahead.

‘Breach of rules’

Research carried out by intelligence experts for the University of Birmingham Policy Commission Report published in October warned of the misuse of drones.

The commission called for “urgent” measures to safeguard British airspace to cope with civil and commercial use, which is expected to be more widespread by 2035.

The report said the “hazards presented by inadvertent or accidental misuse of RPAS, or the consequences of their malfunctioning are becoming better understood”.

It added that small commercial aircraft, including for taking photographs, are already “clearly being flown” and often in breach of the rules, the commission found.