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Creating a drone register is easy, enforcing it is much harder

There will also be a cost for adding your drone to the register

Anything that's heavier than 60 grams that hits a plane in flight – including a goose – has the potential to cause a dangerous level of damage to the vehicle. So far, in the UK, there have been a number of near misses between drones and planes but no reported incidents where a collision has happened.

UK officials want to keep things this way. To minimise the potential of drones being involved in crashes, anyone who owns an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that weighs more than 250g will have to register it with the government. And pay to do so. Leisure users will also have to complete a "competency" test to ensure they are able to fly their machines safely.

The plans are announced in a new Department for Transport document that looks at the safe use of drones by professionals and amateur flyers. The biggest changes will be introduced for people who have drones for personal usage.

"Commercial pilots have been asking for the rules concerning hobby drone pilots to be tightened up," Andrew Heaton, from the University of Central Lancashire's Civic Drone Centre, tells WIRED. Those who fly drones commercially currently have to register their aircraft with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take competency tests. As of July 17, there are hundreds of businesses, police forces, and photographers who have registered with the CAA.

"They are concerned about someone just buying a drone, flying without any knowledge of the rules and causing an incident or accident, leading to ‘knee jerk reaction’ tightening of the regulation which will affect them when they have done nothing wrong," Heaton says.

The government document states that it is "highly likely" that those with drones will face a charge to register them, although it doesn't say how much this will be. It adds that it hasn't decided whether each drone owned by a person will have to be registered, or whether one registration is needed per person.

"I think the plans are a sensible way to ensure that all drone users understand the rules around safety, security, and privacy before they go flying," Owen McAree, a senior research fellow in drone and robot safety at the University of Sheffield, tells WIRED. Although, he says the change will be "significant" for amateur flyers.

The UK won't be the first to introduce a drone register. The US introduced one for non-commercial pilots in December 2015 and so far more than 770,000 people with UAVs have signed up for the scheme. The registration included a $5 (£3.84) fee. The government in Ireland also introduced a drone register in 2015, for those with aircraft weighing more than 1kg.

The difficulty in introducing a drone register for amateurs will be ensuring everyone signs up. "I am not sure how effective a registration scheme will be," Heaton says. There is "little consensus" on how the scheme should work and who will be responsible for it, drawing parallels with those who don't pay for car insurance even though it is required. "It is pointless having to register drones and enhanced fines/consequences if they are not enforced," Heaton adds.

Freedom of Information Act requests to the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealed that in more than 12 months it had not brought any enforcement action against people registered on its drone database.

McAree says: "Unfortunately, in the (quite understandable) excitement of wanting to get outside and fly your new drone, it's easy to overlook the various rules and policies about where it is safe and legal to fly, or the possible privacy concerns of those around you, as almost all modern drones are fitted with cameras".

However, in the US, the requirement to register a non-commercial drone was quashed after the law was challenged by those flying model aircraft, which were being classed as drones. The US now only has a register for commercial drone users.

McAree says model aircraft pilots may also be covered by the UK's new drone plans. "Unfortunately, because it is difficult to make a distinction between a drone and a model aircraft, these registration requirements will apply to everyone," he says. "It is expected that there will be some costs associated with registering and if this applies to each aircraft a person owns this could get very costly for some model aircraft enthusiasts".

MATT BURGESS 24.07.2017 10:58 AM

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