2019年3月11日

Legislation and the continued rise of drones: an update

We've written previously in Under Construction about the potential for drones in construction and the legal hurdles affecting their use. Since then the need for regulation around their use was demonstrated starkly by the incident at Gatwick Airport in December that left thousands of passengers stranded.

As mentioned in our earlier article, further legislation in relation to the use of drones had been planned in any event and the second reading of a Private Members Bill in Parliament of the "Drone (Regulation) Bill" had been due 15 February 2019.

At the time of writing that Bill, which promised to mandate the use of flight information systems and empower police to issue fixed penalty notices, is yet to be published or have its second reading.

However, a different draft Bill, the "Drone (Regulation) (No.2) Bill", has been published that seems to be a direct response to the Gatwick incident and tailored to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The short draft Bill has two features that construction professionals who use, or are interested in using, drones ought to be aware of should it find its way into law.

Marking, registration and electronic conspicuity devices

The Bill would require "prescribed drones" (a term that would be defined by the Secretary of State at a later date) to carry permanent marks such as serial numbers and be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority. In addition, prescribed drones would not be allowed to be operated in the UK unless they are fitted with an "electronic conspicuity device".

An "electronic conspicuity device" is a device able to electronically broadcast information relating to the identity, height and location of the drone, so the effect of these laws would be to make drones and their exact position easily identifiable.

The take away for construction professionals is that they would need to ensure that they purchase drones that, or that their existing drones, comply with these new registration requirements, as well as to appreciate that their devices would be capable of such tracking.

Restrictions on drone flight near aerodromes

This is a point that will only apply in relation to a limited number of construction projects, but the Bill would impose new restrictions on use of prescribed drones near aerodromes.

The Bill prohibits flights within 5 kilometres of an aerodrome unless:

  • the Civil Aviation Authority has granted permission
  • the prescribed drone is flown directly above a domestic or commercial building and does not attain a height of more than 30 metres above the highest point of such building
  • that operator is an "exempt body".

Points that occur to us are:

  • While most developments probably will not be within five kilometres of an aerodrome, five kilometres in all directions constitutes a large area. The presence of London City Airport would mean that many drone users in London will have to comply. Most airports are further outside city centres, but often in the ten to fifteen kilometre range that is likely to affect many developments within city limits, as well as the infrastructure that serves the airports.
  • What constitutes an "exempt body" will be determined by the Secretary of State at a future date but it seems likely that this will give rise to something akin to a registration or licencing regime or some other minimum criteria that operators will have to satisfy before they can use drones in affected schemes.


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