Tag Archives: drone

UK government drone proposals

The UK government has today ( 22nd July 2017) released its response to the drone public consultation exercise it carried out between December of last year and March of this year, and for the most part it remains very much a work in progress for most of the issues under consideration.

The one big decision that it has announced, which can hardly come as any surprise, is that the government will require drones above 250 grammes in weight to be registered. So why has it reached this decision, and why set it at above 250 grammes? The answers to these questions can be found in fresh research the government commissioned on the potential collision impact of drones hitting manned aircraft. It should be noted that even within a few hours of the research document being released, the way the research was undertaken has already been criticised by some drone users on the basis that unrealistic conditions were used when compared to actual flight scenarios.

That may or may not be true, but the government have clearly set their registration stall out, with plenty of encouragement from the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), who were one of the partner organisations in the collision impact research exercise. The results of this research showed that a 400 gramme drone could critically damage a helicopter windscreen and its tail rotor blade. Therefore, the government has chosen to set its registration requirement at machines weighing 250 grammes or more.

In its Consultation Report the government states that a registration scheme will help to improve safety, security and privacy. However, arguably the clear main focus of government attention is safety, and particularly safety in respect to manned aircraft. If the government were equally focussed on privacy for instance, then all drones (how will drones be defined for registration purposes?) no matter what weight, if they include a camera would need to have been registered, as it is perfectly possible to buy a drone under 250 grammes that possesses a decent quality, potentially privacy invasive filming system.

Whilst a registration scheme is to be introduced, there remain several unknowns conected to it. How much will the registration cost and will there be an annual renewal fee? The government have made clear that the drone user will be footing the bill for the running of the registration scheme. It also seems likely, although it has not been explicitly stated, that registration will not take place at the point of sale, when the drone is purchased. Arguably, a more robust registration scheme should be at the point of sale, but this would be burdensome  supposedly for retailers, so it is likely drone users will have to register after purchase.

But then comes another new feature of the government requirements – drone users will have to take a mandatory assessment test in order to at least in part be considered competent/eligible to fly their drone. How this is going to work is at present unclear. The government seem to be pointing to a form of online test to be taken at the same time as registration is made. So it could be that the test has to be successfully completed before registration can be undertaken. The test is described by the government as a basic knowledge of the law and how to fly safely, with the areas covered being safety, security and privacy. The use by the government of the word basic would point to a simple, straightforward awareness of the law test, but then for example when it comes to data protection and privacy law the word basic could arguably point to something a good deal more detailed.

In a move to allay some of the concerns of Model Aircraft Flying Clubs and their members, there is likely to be some exemptions as regards registration and the educational test. This if done correctly could encourage drone flyers or potential flyers to join such clubs.

Most of the other issues raised during the consultation exercise, such as insurance, electronic identification, and changes to the Air Navigation Order Rules and penalties imposed remain open issues for further consideration by the government.

When the registration scheme will become operational is unknown. It will be interesting to see whether following the introduction of the scheme there is a decline in the calls the public make to the police as regards drones, and the level of near misses to manned aircraft declines. Additionally, it will also be of interest to see how the police will deal with complaints they receive following the introduction of the registration scheme. A major problem for the police has been in regards to the level of resources they are prepared to commit to what in most instances they might consider low level offences.


Action Mesothelioma Day – The 5000 deaths that go unreported

Every year the first friday of July see’s Action Mesothelioma Day in the UK, where events take place across the country to both raise awareness of the scourge of asbestos and to commemorate and remember those who have succumbed to the individious diseases caused by exposure to asbestos.

Raising awareness of asbestos and the issues surrounding the legacy of 100 years or so of its widespread use in this country has always been challenging for victims and campaigners. This year perhaps more than ever before, with Brexit and the continuing fall-out politically and economically of the referendum, and England’s latest footballing disaster holding the nation’s attention, Action Mesothelioma Day and its important messages will at best receive the odd cursory line here and there in the media. But those messages of life and death have an importance deserving of the nation’s attention. With around 2,500 people dying this year from mesothelioma, and a further 2,500 succumbing to other asbestos related diseases, the paucity of attention given to Action Mesothelioma Day is shameful.

With such human carnage, we need also look to see how our Government has responded to the plight of the innocent victims of asbestos, and the protection of its citizens from exposure to asbestos that remains in situ across the country, especially in our schools. This Government has been strong on concerning words, but arguably limited and even contradictory in its actions.

On a positive note this year, the Government announced that it will use £5 million from the fines it is levying on banks that has been earmarked as part of the Military Covenant, to fund a mesothelioma research centre for the next three to four years. Whilst asbestos campaigners have long argued that there needs to be meaningful research funds made available for asbestos related diseases, it is perhaps instructive that this move by the Government only came about through links to the Military Covenant. Although the funding is to be welcomed, it is in reality inadequate given that it is £5 million over three to four years, arguably representing a minimalist approach, but of course the Government will undoubtedly seek to refer to it time and again to show how they have listened and taken action.

A further positive move, again linked to the Military Covenant, was the announcement that ex-military personnel who have contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos whilst in the armed services and who until now were not eligible for lump sum compensation, will now be entitled to £140,000. It is disappointing however that this compensation has so far not been made available to those ex-military personnel who have suffered other asbestos related diseases.

Thus the Government can refer to two positive moves it has made recently whenever the topic of asbestos is raised with them. But what you will not hear about are instances where the Government actually seek to act to the detriment of asbestos victims and their families. It is bad enough their inaction, such as not appropriately addressing asbestos in schools, but when they positively act in a detrimental way, this needs highlighting to ensure hypocritical claims of concern that they continue to espouse are placed into the appropriate context. It is highly symbolic that in the very week of Action Mesothelioma Day this year we have been provided with such an example. Cyril Hollow, worked for 20 years as a decorator in the Royal Navy dockyard at Devonport. He was negligently exposed to asbestos by his employer, the Government, and died in 2010 of lung cancer. His family brought a legal action against his employer, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and in Exeter County Court in 2014 following the admittance of negligence by the Government the central issue was that of contributory negligence, and how much the damages to be awarded should be reduced due to Mr Hollow’s smoking habit. The Government argued the damages should be reduced by between 85 and 90%. In the event the judge decided that a fair and equitable reduction should be 30% and damages of £80,000 were awarded instead of over £100,000 that would have been awarded without the contributory negligence.

A major issue has been how asbestos and smoking interact in causing lung cancer, and because of the lack of research into asbestos diseases, much remains unknown as to the precise interaction, with experts widely disagreeing as a consequence. The 30% reduction due to Mr Hollow’s contributory negligence was in fact a far higher reduction than in two previous asbestos lung cancer cases where smoking was an issue. In the case of Badger v MOD (2005) a reduction of 20% was made, and in Shortell v BICAL (2008) the reduction was 15%. In Mr Hollow’s case the Government were however not content with the 30% reduction, and in the week of Action Mesothelioma Day, Lord Justice Tomlinson in the Court of Appeal has granted a request by the Government for a full appeal to be heard on the issue of the level of contributory negligence.

Whilst Mr Hollow may not have been a member of the armed services, he served his country by working in the Devonport dockyard, and yet the Government wish to decimate the compensation they have to pay for his death. The country may not hear much about Action Mesothelioma Day, but those attending the various events will have had in their thoughts Mr Hollow and the thousands of other victims of asbestos.

Sunday Times drone jamming report raises interesting issues

Today’s report in the Sunday Times that jamming equipment is being installed to prevent drones flying over sensitive sites should come as no surprise. My understanding is that at least one Premiership football club have been using jamming technology for some time to prevent drones flying over their ground.

It does raise some interesting questions. Outside of the security services jamming of radio signals, such jamming is illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, so there is the issue of ensuring that any blocking of signals is being carried out legally. The scope of the blocking is a further matter of concern. There is it seems the strong likelihood that radio signals will be affected outside of the immediate zone of protection. Whilst the jamming technology may be set to block signals on the commonly used frequencies for drone flying, what of drones being flown outside of those frequencies?

A further question is if jamming technology is blocking the signal to a drone, what will happen to the drone? Will it just fall to the ground, potentially causing injury?  So who would be liable?




The public acceptance challenge facing civil drone use

Drones are currently one of the fastest moving technology stories, but included in the growing daily newsflow coverage are clear warning signs of the challenges facing civil drone use due to various public concerns. Whilst we already are aware of these major concerns such as safety, privacy, nuisance, trespass etc., and despite a desire to address them by governments and the various bodies discussing the wide scale development of civil drones, it is quite possible we will fail to do so effectively to the detriment of the drone industry.

Last week, amongst the continuous daily newsflow were three news items that help us in understanding the problems faced. The first of these items related to the changes made to the New Zealand regulatory rules for the flying of drones. The second story was the call by Amazon in its quest to develop a drone delivery business, of having dedicated air space corridors for its operations. The last item was news of a drone shot down in Kentucky by an irate householder, angry at the drone’s intrusion into what he saw as his private space. By linking these news items with research I have carried out using FOI requests to UK Police forces to discover the level of drone related complaints recently made by the public in the UK, gives us an insight into public acceptance problems that are not future concerns, but are very much with us now.

The recently introduced regulations for flying drones in New Zealand highlight key problematic issues that countries around the world will need to address, arguably the sooner the better. The risk based approach taken by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority which is designed to enhance safety where drones are being flown, has at its heart two core regulations. The first, Part 101 of the New Zealand Civil Aviation Rules, includes what are generally common features in a number of national unmanned aircraft regulations – that an unmanned aircraft must remain in the line of sight of the operator and that the aircraft cannot be flown higher than 400 feet above the ground. What makes the New Zealand regulations stand out however, are that Part 101 also requires that drones cannot be flown over people without their actual consent, or flown over property without the occupiers consent. These requirements are a clear recognition by the New Zealand authorities of public concerns. For commercial drone operators having to obtain such consent would likely in many instances prove time consuming and challenging. However, the new Part 1 consent requirements are not designed as such for commercial drone operators, with the rationale being that if commercial operators needed to seek such permission it should be a signal to them that their flying operations are likely to be hazardous, and as such they should not be flying under Part 101 rules, but instead should seek from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority a Part 2 certification for flying. The Part 102 operating requirements are established on a case by case basis, giving potentially greater flying scope than available under Part 101. However, to obtain a Part 102 certificate a drone operator needs to go through an extensive process providing the New Zealand CAA with detailed information relating to the risks of their intended operations and the measures taken to mitigate such risks.

Those operating under Part 101 rules will primarily be non-commercial – leisure drone flyers, but a major question for all regulatory authorities is just how such regulations are going to be enforced? The new regulations reflect not just safety concerns, but also privacy concerns, and in New Zealand the central organisation for privacy related matters are the Privacy Commissioners Office. Alongside the New Zealand CAA and Privacy Commissioner, the other primary enforcement agency of course are New Zealand Police, who would it can be surmised be expected to play a central role in such enforcement. But without technical means of identification, public organisations with finite resources and perhaps stronger priority calls on such resources will face considerable difficulties enforcing such regulations. Only last week in the UK, Chief Constable Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs Council, warned that with stretched Police resources, burglaries may no longer even be investigated. She pointed out that for UK Police the three central priorities are child sex crime, cybercrime and terrorism. So it can be envisaged that unless specific drone activity is likely to cause serious safety concerns then little resource allocation can be expected to be generally forthcoming.

Later this year in the UK, Nigel Wilson faces the first ever Police led prosecution for alleged multiple infringements of the Air Navigation Orders, after on numerous occasions flying his drone over Premier League football grounds. Whether a successful prosecution of Mr Wilson will act as a deterrent to other drone flyers as some may hope, is perhaps a tad optimistic. It is striking that Mr Wilson’s case is the first Police led prosecution given the number of complaints received by Police across the UK, but with what I have already said regarding resources it is unsurprising.

The following table provides details of how many calls Police forces around the UK have received relating to drones roughly over the last couple of years. These details were provided under FOI requests. Unfortunately North Yorkshire Police, Police Scotland, Essex Police, Surrey Police and Wiltshire Police were all unable to provide any figures as they said the costs involved in identifying drone related calls would be too great.

Police Force Period Calls Logged
Avon & Somerset 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 17
Bedfordshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 7
Cambridgeshire July 2013 – June 2015 1
Cheshire 1 Jan 2014 – 31 May 2015 3
Cleveland 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
Cumbria 1 Jan 2014 – 31 May 2015 9
Derbyshire 1 Jan 2014 – 26 Jun 2015 16
Devon & Cornwall 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 9
Dorset July 2013 – June 2015 1
Durham 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
Gloucestershire 1 July 2013 – 31 May 2015 6
Greater Manchester 1 Jan 2013 – 14 Jun 2015 30
Hampshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Mar 2015 16
Hertfordshire 1 May 2013 – 1 May 2015 33
Kent Jan 2014 – Mar 2015 12
Lancashire 1 Jan 2014 – 15 Jun 2015 34
Leicestershire June 2013 – May 2015 6
Lincolnshire June 2013 – May 2015 8
Merseyside 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 24
Metropolitan Police 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 13
Norfolk July 2013 – Jun 2015 12
Northamptonshire 1 Jun 2013 – 31 May 2015 5
Northumbria June 2013 – May 2015 25
Nottinghamshire 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 17
South Wales 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 5
South Yorkshire 1 Jun 2013 – 25 Jun 2015 5
Staffordshire June 2013 – May 2015 21
Suffolk 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 17
Sussex June 2013 – May 2015 27
Thames Valley 1 Apr 2013 – 31 Mar 2015 31
Warwickshire June 2013 – May 2015 3
West Mercia 1 Jan 2013 – 31 Dec 2014 7
West Midlands 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 4
West Yorkshire 1 Jan 2014 – 31 Mar 2015 7

Even more interesting than the total number of calls received by the Police are the specifics of the calls that have been made. 24 of the Police forces listed above also provided descriptions of the nature of the calls/complaints received. I have split these into various categories in the table below. It should be noted that some of the matters complained about in calls fall into more than one category in the table.

Type of Incident/Complaint Number
Hit or Near Miss – Person or Property 5
Landed in private garden or on driveway 6
Flown over houses, gardens or local street 77
Alleged/possible criminal use 8
Surveillance and Privacy, or camera mentioned 44
Possible filming of children 5
Anti-social behaviour/harassment/nuisance 15
Flown over public places, public buildings or drone flying with no other details 93
Flown near planes/helicopters or in civil airspace or restricted area 8
Drone crash 7
Physical assault due to drone use 2
Noise 3
Civil disputes/ Neighbour disputes 14

Created with the HTML Table Generator

One of the complaints received by Lincolnshire Police was from a person who annoyed at having a drone fly over his garden took out a rifle, presumably an air rifle, and shot at the drone. The fact that he actually complained to the Police about the drone and told them what he had done speaks volumes. Only last week in the United States, Kentucky resident, William Merideth, annoyed at what he said was a privacy infringement, shot down a drone which led to his arrest. There are contradictory accounts from Merideth and the drones owner as to the height the drone was flying at, with Merideth claiming it was far lower than the drone owner believes, who has sought to show through the release of video footage the flying height of the drone. In reality if we are talking about a potential invasion of privacy, with the high quality cameras now available a hundred feet either way would unlikely be significant. But of course most people would assume that the closer a drone is to you then the more invasive it will seem, particularly if it has a camera.

Amazon’s announcement last week that in order to help facilitate drone delivery services it is calling for an air corridor between 200 and 400 feet above the ground to be used solely for sophisticated high speed drones raises further difficult questions. Firstly, this would force all other drones not given access to this corridor into flying below 200 feet, which may well add to concerns the public have. Without robust technical controls however it would seem impossible to enforce such a blockage on access to the 200 – 400 feet zone. But a further important matter is that whilst Amazon and other operators may see a unique commercial opportunity, and these commercial drones will be operating above 200 feet, except of course when they are coming into land and deliver, how will the public be consulted on such a proposal to have a meaningful possibility of influencing the decision making process?

Part of the overall problem facing decision makers lies in the rapid speed of development of the drone industry, and how to balance the various parties interests. New Zealand has clearly sought to balance those various interests, but as I have pointed out there is likely to be a hugely problematic enforcement issue, which may if not properly addressed lead to those disgruntled about drones taking their own self help measures.

Drone photojournalist arrest highlights urgent need to improve drone regulatory rules

The arrest this week of a Civil Aviation Authority authorised commercial drone user, photojournalist Eddie Mitchell by Surrey Police, highlights the ongoing weaknesses and vagaries that are present in the regulatory structure for drone users in the UK at present.

With concerns over the rapid growth in drone users, especially with drones expected to be a must have present at Christmas, I understand various police forces in the UK have issued guidance to their officers on the range of offences that could be committed from drone use that would enable police officers to carry out an arrest and potentially seek a prosecution, one of these offences being a breach of the peace. What the police authorities have failed to do so far however, is to appropriately train their officers on drone use and how they should handle situations where drones are being flown. The initial report of Mr Mitchell’s arrest by Surrey Police in the Guardian for potential breach of the peace highlighted that Mr Mitchell’s flying of the drone was close to Gatwick airport, suggesting his arrest was related in some way to endangering aircraft. This appears incorrect as Mr Mitchell was using his drone equipment close to a caravan site where there had been a fatal fire. The site is used by travellers and the breach of the peace alleged by the police seems more likely to relate to the possible reaction by those present at the caravan site to the drone flying overhead. From the photographs published of the arrest, it seems Surrey police made a rather ham fisted attempt at arresting Mr Mitchell whilst his drone was still in the air. Untrained in the flying of drones they appear to have snatched the control box resulting in the drone ultimately crashing to the ground, potentially of course risking injuries.

drone Picture by Darren Cool

Peter Lee in his blog Drones and the Law, suggests that the CAA may have to start issuing ID cards for those they have authorised to fly drones commercially to avoid potential misunderstandings. But clearly even where the police are aware that a person is a bona fide commercial drone operator and they wish that person to cease their flying they must know how to handle the situation appropriately, within designated laid down procedures.

On a wider note as a matter of some urgency non commercial drone users must be made aware of the rules by which they must abide by when flying drones. At the recent House of Lords Select Committee enquiry into drones there has been discussion about requiring manufacturers to place guidance material in the boxes containing the drone when they are sold. I would suggest that actually this will not be sufficient and a far wider publicity campaign will be needed.

Drone Predictions for 2015

We are now entering the prediction season, but predictions do of course have that nasty habit of being wrong! But in the name of tradition lets have a go at predicting a few of the things that 2015 might bring for drones.

There are two things that I am reasonably confident in predicting: firstly, we are likely to see growing numbers of drone related stories in the media – in the last few months there have been a marked increase in drone stories. It is widely reported that drones are one of the must have presents for Christmas, so come Christmas Day a whole new generation of drone flyers will take to the air (and back down again!) and no doubt this will lead to a plethora of stories for the media to relay. My second confident prediction is that the media will continue to call them drones. Whilst the acronyms RPAS and UAV are being used widely in official circles, they simply do not have the attention power of the word drone.

When it comes to predicting the developing uses of drones with some predictions we are on pretty safe ground as usage in certain areas is already well on the way to being commonplace. 2014 witnessed some stunning photographic and film uses made of drone technology and these areas will undoubtedly continue to develop, providing us with unique visual experiences.

One area where there was much talk in 2014 of possible widespread drone activity was that of delivery. Amazon amongst others have been carrying out experiments on delivery systems, but I remain to be convinced that 2015 will witness widescale drone delivery usage. famous last words). This is for a number of reasons – there is some way to go before the technology itself is ready for such a role, both in terms of actually delivering goods and the technical/safety issues surrounding drone flights. As well as these matters there is also the issues of regulatory and acceptance concerns. Deliveries such as emergency medical supplies would be a natural beneficiary of drone technology, but the much talked about pizza deliveries is an entirely different matter.

As regards regulation, in the UK the lead regulatory body the CAA can be seen to be ahead of the game in seeking to provide a working environment by which drone usage can be facilitated. The U.S. regulatory body the FAA in contrast has been heavily criticised for its pedestrian pace of addressing key issues to create a workable framework. The whole area of regulation and public acceptance is likely to be a major issue in 2015.

If we consider other users, the police no doubt will continue to work on their use of drones, as will other public bodies such as the fire and rescue service. One of the very promising areas that are likely to benefit from greater use of drone technology is the agricultural sector. Already farmers are using drones, but this is likely to be just the beginning, with great opportunities in crop and livestock management. Researchers in different fields are likely to identify innovative uses for drone technology. Could selfie pictures give way to Dronie pictures in 2015? One area that I have not heard mentioned so far for drone use is the Art world – so maybe we will have Drone Art in 2015.

Perhaps the biggest question however for next year will be whether by Christmas 2015 Father Christmas will have given up on his sleigh and will be using a drone instead???!!!

Introducing the Dronie

Drone related stories in the media seem to have become a regular occurrence, and today was no exception. In today’s Daily Telegraph, journalist Hugh Morris sought to christen the next big photo craze – the Dronie. Morris believes the selfie has already become old hat, and soon we will all be wanting Dronies – pictures taken of us from above.
Morris reports that already a company in New Zealand is providing skiers and snowboarders with the opportunity of having their own drone produced video; and in the French ski resort of Val Thorens a drone with an operator can be rented out for the bargain price of 50 euros for 10 minutes!

Meanwhile, today’s Independent reports that a UK engineering company, Malloy Aeronautics, are working to create a functional hoverbike called a quadrocopter to actually carry a human being. Remember the flying skateboard in the film Back to the Future, and you get the idea.

1_3rd_Grass_cropped (2)

In order to raise money for the quadrocopter project the company are selling a one third the size drone like version. Besides raising much needed finance the drone sized version is built to show that the concept actually will work. I wonder what the CAA would say – perhaps not that you won’t be able to take a dronie if you are sitting on the thing!