The first ever conviction for flying a drone in the UK has been widely reported in the media this week. Robert Knowles from Barrow in Furness was on Tuesday found guilty of two offences relating to his flying of a drone aircraft.
The first charge for flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft within 50 metres of a structure contrary to Article 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009. The video footage clearly showed his drone narrowly missing a busy bridge. The second charge was for flying over a nuclear installation contrary to Regulation 3(2) of the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying) (Nuclear Installations) Regulations 2007.
Mr Knowles was fined £800 by Furness and District Magistrates, and costs were awarded to the Civil Aviation Authority who brought the case of £3500.
The conviction of Mr Knowles, who is a keen amateur drone enthusiast, came about when the drone he had been flying was found in water near to a submarine testing facility run by BAE Systems. Subsequent analysis of the video footage shot by the drone’s camera, identified Mr Knowles through his car number plate, and that the drone had flown contrary to the regulations Mr Knowles was charged with.
If Mr Knowles had not lost control of his drone then nobody would have been any the wiser even if he were violating the regulations, and he wouldn’t now be £4300 out of pocket. Mr Knowles in comments he has posted on his local newspaper website claims that he was a mile and a half from the restricted nuclear facility, and he simply lost control of the drone. Another poster on the same website made the interesting observation that where Mr Knowles was flying his drone is a popular location for drone enthusiasts, and there is the risk that the radio frequency they use runs the risk of them interfering with each others ability to control their aircraft.
So there appears a clear risk for all drone enthusiasts that even if they are flying inside the applicable regulatory requirements, they could lose control of their aircraft and find themselves in serious trouble with the CAA.
As I have written elsewhere, there must also be the risk of malicious hacking of a drones control system, and in such a situation Mr Knowles could be just an innocent victim.
Prior to Mr Knowles conviction a Lancastrian photographer, Lawrence Clift, who used his drone to film a school fire and subsequently sold the footage to the media, received a Civil Aviation Authority caution for not having authority from the CAA to make commercial flights, and selling the footage made his flying of the drone commercial. (Update 30th January 2015 – Mr Clift has emailed me to say that he now has all the necessary accreditation from the CAA to undertake commercial drone flights).
No doubt the next drone story that hits the media is probably all ready for take-off!