New drone regulations should be aimed at Christmas-present crowd, says Norfolk expert

Crop scientists will be trained by The Aerial Academy to use drones to monitor their field trials. T

Crop scientists will be trained by The Aerial Academy to use drones to monitor their field trials. The Aerial Academy pilot, Elliott Corke using a drone.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Measures to crack down on reckless and unsafe drone users must target the casual flyer, according to a Norfolk expert.

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday March 2File photo dated 21/08/15 of an Octocopter type drone, as airline

Embargoed to 0001 Wednesday March 2File photo dated 21/08/15 of an Octocopter type drone, as airline pilots are calling for tests to be carried out to discover what would happen if a drone hit a passenger jet, amid a recent spate of near misses. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 2, 2016. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) wants the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to back research into the possible consequences of such a collision. See PA story AIR Drones. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Elliott Corke, co-founder of the Aerial Academy training school at Honingham Thorpe, said proposals from the Department for Transport to improve drone safety were 'broadly sensible', but education was the priority.

The consultation include possible mandatory registration for new drones, tougher penalties for flying in restricted areas and making drones electronically identifiable so the owner's details can be passed to the authorities.

The consultation will also consider whether there is a need for a new criminal offence for misuse of drones.

Mr Corke said: 'My worry is in the implementation: is it too late for some aspects? For example, the registration process – there are so many drones in the UK already.

'Training and education is sensible and it should focus on people buying drones on the high street. They are the ones that miss the fact that there's legislation in place to keep people safe.'

He added: 'The professionals and the hobbyists are aware of it, but there's a whole bunch in the middle who either aren't aware of the rules or haven't come across them yet.'

But he said proposals to tag drones so that authorities could trace owners could be limited by technology on board.

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'We were talking about this three years ago, so it almost feels a bit too late now,' he said.

The Aerial Academy was involved in the consultation process and took part in an event at the Science Museum where members of the public were able to raise concerns, which mostly centred around privacy, said Mr Corke.

Professional services firm PwC estimated in May that the global market for drone use will be worth £103bn within a decade.

In December, online giant Amazon achieved a world-first in Cambridge by delivering by drone, in the hope of rolling the service out for same-day deliveries.

Earlier this year Norwich City Council announced plans – later grounded by regulations – to check on the condition of council flat roofs.

Some 59 near misses involving drones and aircraft have featured in UK Airprox Board (UKAB) reports over the past 12 months.

In September 2014, a helicopter crew flying into Norwich had to take evasive action when confronted with an unmanned aerial vehicle an estimated 50m away from them above the Rackheath Industrial Estate.

Current Civil Aviation Authority rules say drones must not be flown above 400ft or within 150ft of people or property.

They must also be kept at least 500ft away from crowds and built up areas, and must not fly over such locations at any height.

Former RAF and British Airways pilot Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots' Association, welcomed the launch of the DfT consultation.

He said: 'Pilots are concerned about the growing number of near misses and the potential for catastrophe should a collision occur.

'At the same time, Balpa believes drone operators, especially hobbyists, need to be made aware of the potential dangers of irresponsible flying.

'We support the DfT in pressing for better education, compulsory registration and high profile prosecution for careless operators.'