UK Government to Hold Drone Licensing Consultation

All over your TV and radio this morning if you live in the UK is the news that the British government is to hold a consultation over the licensing of multirotors, or drones as they are popularly known. It is being reported that users will have to sit a test to acquire a licence before they can operate any machine that weighs above 250 g, and there is the usual fog of sloppy reporting that surrounds any drone story.

This story concerns us on several fronts. First, because many within our community are multirotor enthusiasts and thus we recognise its importance to our readership. And then because it takes as its basis of fact a series of reported near misses with aircraft that look very serious if taken at face value, but whose reported facts simply don’t match the capabilities of real multirotors. We’ve covered this issue in the past with an incident-by-incident analysis, and raised the concern that incident investigators behave irresponsibly in saying “It must have been a drone!” on the basis of no provable evidence. Indeed the only proven British collision was found to have been with a plastic bag.

Of course irresponsible multirotor fliers who threaten public safety should be brought to book. Lock them up, throw away the key, whatever is appropriate. But before that can be done, any debate must be conducted on a level playing field. Our final concern is that this is an issue which is being framed almost entirely on the basis of one side’s interest groups and hysteria on the part of the uninformed about a new technology, rather than a balanced examination of the issues involved. It’s the old “People are having fun. This must be stopped!” idea that infects so much lawmaking, and it’s not very pretty.

Fortunately while it is being reported in some quarters as a done deal as in “Drone fliers must sit a test”, in fact this story is “The Government will ask people what they think about drone fliers sitting a test”. It’s a consultation, which means a Parliamentary committee will sit down and hear evidence before deciding on any legislation. The good news about consultations is that they are open to submissions from the general public, so if you are a British multirotor flier you can submit your own arguments. We will keep you posted with any news about the consultation as we have it.

Header image: 최광모 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

47 thoughts on “UK Government to Hold Drone Licensing Consultation

  1. In the UK, that’s not how government consultations work.

    What *actually* happens is this. They come up with an idea, pretend to discuss it, then implement it anyway.

    There simply aren’t enough of us interested in drone flying to launch enough of a protest to make even the simplest of changes to the proposals. In others words, this is going to happen. :(

      1. Then the Govt’ will put it up for referendum and place a load of propaganda on the TV etc saying that drone flight can cause foreigners to enter the country and that licencing them and making bans will save the country £35.4Bn and because “England”

        The Joe public will vote on these lies while pulling the Genius man meme face while screaming, “YAAAY Erhnglaaaand!!!!!!!!”

        When they find out their govt’ ripped it’s own people off and stopped them having fun. They will moan and demand a revote then the govt’ will make all the excuses in the book saying the people really wanted the outcome.

        It is now no longer technically correct to say “dumber than an American” when now the only thing on the bottom of the dumbness scale is Englishman.

        England is definitely not heading towards dictatorship (sticks fingers in ears, lalala didn’t hear you, what you agree? because my selective hearing says so)

        And this is how the UK works.

        Bonus imaginary Hackaday points to whom guesses how much I like my country.

        1. “My Ignorance is as good as your knowledge” is about to strike again in England. My fellow countrymen and women are sleepwalking in to this kind of crap on a regular basis its just depressing.

          Its also fueled by the fact that UK politics is not about policy but popularity and politicians treat elections as popularity contests where basically nothing said is true or will ever happen, and complete U-turns on policy happens the moment they are elected.

          Look at “Brexit” as an example. country voted one way. Politicians are trying to find every excuse to not leave and gum up\ stop the process.

          I really don’t want to live on this planet any more but don’t know how to get off this ride. Space ships are not up to Futurama levels of availability so I’m stuck in this shit hole for now :(

          1. Actually britexit wasn’t one way, it was fractions. Wouldn’t happen in main elections, pure integer round-off.

            People who I knew (mostly younger lot) mostly planned to vote out but over half of them didn’t vote anyway.
            I just wasn’t registered, partly because of the grey area of documents they send to both threaten people and bribe people to sign up for vote are infact holding no legal value unless signed up to.
            Also I’d think people wouldn’t want me to vote if the UK govt had a ref on “Nuke the foreigners out of UK because yay England”.
            Because I’d vote yes just for the sheer point of putting idiots out of their misery and I don’t consider myself to be English (mainly by mentality).
            Instead, I just continue with living life neutral to their politics and instead watch England burn it self.

            In case you are wondering, childhood issues isn’t even close, because I didn’t have much of one to begin with thanks to govt policies that affected and split a partially failed family that was in a very stable situation, just for the fun of it (to skip on some slight second guesses aka conspiracy theories).
            Trying to keep minimal, so some things may not make total sense…

    1. There are aviation examples where a strong well-argued and well presented case significantly changed policy. If you want to see some, look vat the history of gliding and light aviation in the UK.

      Poorly argued whinges get nowhere, correctly.

      1. Those are manned aircraft and have an aviation community constituency which makes a great difference. The government inspired media hype about the oh-so-great danger from “drones” and the typical users of same not being an “in” group in the manned aviation community resulted in the US in this ridiculous 250g limit that now other nations are blindly (and stupidly) copying. When I read the “study” by the FAA’s drone working group which determined that 250g mass I would have blown coffee through my nose if I had been drinking some. What an absolute joke! Using the FAA’s own MASSIVE bird strike database for comparative statistical analysis, this study proves how ridiculous a 250g limit is:

        https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/Dourado-Wildlife-Strikes-MOP-v2.pdf

  2. I think it’s reasonable to sit a test — or at least prove your understanding of the regulations — before flying. People getting drones as gifts have very little idea of regulations, height limits, airspace, etc. It’s important that they fly within these limits, not only to protect commercial aviation, but to protect other general aviation users, most of whom would be more adversely affected by a drone strike.

    We (GA pilots) all have to sit tests before we can fly on our own, and I don’t see why this shouldn’t extend to remotely operated craft — in fact, the “test” is more important for drones as the pilots have less skin in the game.

    1. Drones present the same risk as any other RC aircraft. There was little to no regulation of those for several decades with a minimum of incidents, simply because it’s not as big of a threat as the fear mongers want you to believe.
      Anything that can carry a human is without a debate waaay heavier then the toys they want to restrict. Also, because the pilot is involving his skin (at the very least), there’s a lot more potential for serious injury or death. And please don’t give me the crap about a person injuring himself not being government business – it is, as for most of Europe the health system is collective and serious injury usually means a serious budget for treatment and recovery.

      1. Yes, and I expect all RC aircraft would eventually be subject to the same criteria — with pilots either sitting a test or belonging to a club affiliated with an “approved training organisation”. The difference now is that the skies are getting busier.

        I’m a glider pilot, and I don’t believe the threat is “fear mongering”. I expect most light aircraft owners, hang/para glider pilots feel similarly. Drones are slow, hard to spot, and potentially lethal if they come through my canopy or hit my tailplane.

        Model flyers and gliders can coexist peacefully — I’ve flown at clubs where model flyers share the same airspace quite safely. What I don’t like the idea of is Billy with a new drone in the countryside seeing how high it will go.

        1. I should add — for the most part, RC flying outside of known clubs is NOTAMed, so we know where to avoid / be more vigilant. My point above is that, with multirotors, RC flying has become easier and more accessible such that individuals could be putting others at risk without even knowing it.

        2. (For the record, GA pilot here too.)

          “Drones are slow, hard to spot, and potentially lethal if they come through my canopy or hit my tailplane.”

          So are birds. There’s a *lot* more of those than there are drones/RC aircraft/kites etc. They have been around a lot longer than us and our fantastic flying machines. I don’t think we’re about to insist that birds take flying tests or ban them outright (unless they are the land based variety).

          1. Well we can’t control birds, but we can control people. People also engage in behavior like “lets see what happens if I shine this laser pointer at that plane”. Animals wouldn’t do something like that.

        3. The RC clubs have lobbyists, at least here in the US and have stayed out of it thus far. Yet these model aircraft are often WAY bigger, WAY heavier, and have been equipped with cameras since the 80’s. BUT because you can’t buy one in a typical store they are under the radar. There are many with jet engines, quad weed wacker engines, and other crazy setups that require a trailer to tow them to a takeoff/landing area. Yet we are regulating the hell out of consumer drones that typically weigh less than a few pounds. Crazy…

          1. RTF park flyers and scale models have been around for at least the past 20 years at a pricepoint that is on par or cheaper than most of the multicopters that are causing problems.
            Something about multicopters seems to make people forget their common sense. IMO a quad copter isn’t any easier to control than a RC plane, and for the racing versions or ones with camera gimbals, arguably more difficult.
            But give someone a $400 Phantom and they decide to race between buildings, fly near airports, or interfere w/ wildfire fighting operations.
            Maybe it’s the confluence of VR,POV headsets, and HD cameras with the ability to hover that exacerbate some people’s voyeurism, and probably some unethical stringers trying to get the scoop first.
            It’s odd (or maybe not given my hypothesis) that even with the same capabilities available in plane format that this is almost exclusively a multicopter problem.

      2. RC aircraft have not been a threat due to community self policing, education etc, because basically you couldn’t get anywhere with RC aircraft in the past without some help and support. You’d learn to fly carefully or you’d have a $500 smoking smear of broken parts first time out…

        This model is broken, due to ready to fly copters with enough electronic nannies and physical robustness to cope with bad flyers, and let them try time and time again without costing themselves a fortune. Also an attitude problem of “We’re new and different and special, so old conventions do not apply to us.”, “We’re not grampa’s RC plane so we can fly anywhere we want..”

        Basically drones have become the RC aircraft clubs/enthusiast’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September

        1. Maybe, but as early as the late 90’s and certainly early 00’s Foamies and FFF planes could be built or bought for under $100 (under $300 if you bought a radio set separate) that were very forgiving to the novice flyer. The prevalence of 2.4GHz radios certainly lowered this pricepoint and complexity since you no longer had to contend with channels or PCM lockout. Radios dropped from +$100 to $40 for a basic 4-channel setup.

    2. Except that sitting a test means finding and waiting for a testing session, travelling to it, paying a moderately substantial fee, and of course memorizing everything on the test regardless of personal relevance. Woe betide you if the UK Government, in their infinite wisdom, decides to add a practical element like the one required to get a ham radio license over here.

  3. What exactly does licensing do. Think about this scenario, we require a test and a license to drive a car on the public roads, how did that prevent two people from driving into the side of my house?

    1. I want to know why they’re even bothering at all, Those who will use drones for nefarious purposes will simply copy the ID from another registered drone user or steal their drone and do damage from a distance if their intent is to be so how do you stop that.

      It’s all just bullshit.

    2. Exactly. You can’t legislate yourself to safety. People have to take a driving test at some point. Yet traffic violations and accidents happen every single day. Laws are zero deterrent to anything. Even the death penalty doesn’t stop those who would be subject to it.

      RC aviation has been around as long as man flight and there have been pretty much no incidents of note and this continues despite the number of “drones” in the skies.

      Making people take a test doesn’t mean they are going to follow what they learn and bad people will gladly take the test and still go and do bad things. They will be punished regardless of their deeds because there are plenty of laws around to prosecute those people with.

      This is about punishing those who haven’t even done anything wrong with a stupid test as silly fee.

      The GA queens have their undies in a wad because someone is having fun in the skies other then themselves, when they already kill themselves at an unacceptable rate. Distracting from the fact that GA flying is dangerous on its own…

    3. I fully agree, licensing does not prevent any worst case scenario from happening. Licensing is one thing, but it only works if it is combined with a proper education. Sure it will not protect us from all harm. But with or without licensing there will always be idiots who fly dangerously and people with wrong intentions who want to harm other people because they hold a grudge of some sort.

      However, did you ever consider that if these people who drove into the side of your house weren’t licensed?
      Thanks to driver tests (and therefore licensing) these fine people were able to navigate to your house and then successfully drive into it. If they weren’t licensed they most likely did not come this far (they could have crashed earlier because of not being trained). But of course I’m only kidding… but seriously now, did one car with 2 people or 2 independent cars drive into your home. Do you live on a dangerous bend/curve or was this a personal attack? I hope you weren’t injured and that the damage was paid for.

      1. Was a boyfriend teaching his girlfriend how to drive. I was on a straight street, they turned into the driveway. I think her learner’s permit got cancelled. We have laws requiring insurance yet they were not insured either so my insurance paid $10k to fix my house.

  4. If they bring it in there’s a small silver lining. I look forward to the inevitable advances we’ll see in the sub-200g craft. I’m sure the engineers in China will turn their full attention to this market segment.

  5. Drone pilot licensing could be the equivalent of an an amateur radio ticket. Some jurisdictions are now requiring a boat license. The course and exam are completely on-line and after you pass you get your little wallet card. But the regulators at least get the assurance of the user being exposed to a few basic principles.

    Be very careful that the politico’s have no understanding of math…their minds work only in language. The political play is the perceived risk to the public compared to someone’s hobby or play thing. Ergo bans on pistols (most countries), or any repeating weapon (Australia)… the good of the many outweigh the hobby of the few.

    Showing that an event is statistically improbably is meaningless. That birds form a greater risk… Nature is exempt from creating risk. Have you noticed that ski hills put cushions around man-made objects, not the natural tree’s! Modern issues around safety have become *probabilistic*… it is one in a million, so it *will* happen and what will we do to prevent it. Too bad that 999,999 have to pay so that the 1 in a million can be avoided… usually due to additional circumstances and stupidity.

    Tower obstruction lighting on towers, wind farms and electrical catenary over rivers… usually creates light pollution to those living close by… too bad for them. Sensitivity to the ground based landowner is largely ignored in aviation obstruction lighting regulations. Politician’s are not armed to refute safety claims. The easy road is to regulate. So the best that can be achieved is to offer realistic proposals rather than allow bureacrats with no skin in the game to create it for you. Look to weed out the stupid flyers to protect the true enthusiasts. Good luck!

  6. At least there is going to be a gathering of evidence.
    The TV and Radio reports I have heard have mentioned limits on size, height and location with regards to airport bounds.
    Pilots have genuinely raised concerns and it’s not a good idea to dismiss them as a kind of fake reports just to get a reaction.

    There are areas such as bird sanctuaries that are marked on charts as areas to avoid by pilots.

    If a bird strike is considered a danger to aircraft, it takes little imagination to realise that a similar danger to aircraft of all types is posed by unfettered use of airspace by anyone and that includes us pilots.

  7. All this is nothing new. Any government interference in people’s lives may seem like a small thing but when you add up all these small things you realise that, once you were able to do a great many more things decades past than one is legally capable of now. All these tiny pieces of legslation are another means of controlling the populace. Centuries ago it was fear of god that kept people in line. A fear of divine retribution is lacking in alomst every sane person. Governments introduce taxation and pithy laws as a way to maintain some kind of hold over the paeons.

    1. This still could’ve happend post licensing, it was after all a tragic accident, the pilot lost control.
      This story will however be used as evidence of the evil nature of drones and their pilots.
      Does anyone know how heavy or light the drone concerned is?

      1. The walkaway lesson is to be careful when people are around. That’s why one has to be careful flying above crowds, even for the professionals. Also of note none of the props appear to be shrouded which might have helped prevent this accident. So regulations, like in aviation, can help there.

        1. I’m fairly certain the pilot was being careful, all the regulations in the word wold not prevent accidents, but your point about the lack of shrouds is more than valid, which is why the weight question, are we about to embark on a legislation journey that ensures the pilots are aware of the risks but don’t require obvious safety improvements to the aircraft either become the rules don’t apply to manufacturers and their profits, or because the weight was a billionth of a gram under the limit?
          worthy of note is the fact that no other rotating blades are shrouded, think, helicopters and fixed wing, many of which are ic powered, but never flown in such close proximity to other people, demonstrating above points about the ease of rtf aircraft, maybe the noise of a quad copter shuts down the common sense part of the brain.
          Whilst I don’t want the legislation, there clearly is a need for it, and it is coming, we all need to have some input on this, part of me says, “250 g is not a lot of weight” but I don’t think the quad copter that caused this accident was heavier than that.

      2. John, I agree entirely.
        It seems the argument is for unfettered use of airspace for so-called drones that can be launched even from the smallest suburban balcony by anyone of any age.
        As GA Pilots there are laws and rules of the air that we have to follow. Transgression results in summary revocation of your license and can in serious cases attract a heavy fine and a jail sentence – this does happen.
        We don’t complain because we understand the serious impact that malpractice or inexperience can cause to life and limb.
        Neither do we complain at having to take exams, proficiency tests, medicals or have restrictions placed on what we can legally fly.
        These laws and rules are there to protect you from me, me from you, us from others and others from us so that we all may enjoy our flying pursuits safely. They do not exist as some petty laws based on a “We Hate Flyers” bias.
        If there is legislation and I need a drone license as I am sure I would, I don’t see a problem. I would have to pass or fail the test the same as anyone else.
        Do we need special favours granted to some of our fellow aviators because they are rooted on terra firma and in less or no danger than warm bodies up in the air?

        1. Yes we do, well sort of, it depends on the size and weight of your aircraft, fixed or rotary wing.
          until a few hours ago I was against the idea for aircrft as “light”as 250g, now I’m more I the camp of “if it flies outside, you and it need licensing” for all the reasons you have listed and many more, privacy or even not being an annoying twat being obvious ones.
          so no, we need no special favours, in the same way a small car that aims itself is not exempt from the same legislations that big cars that need to be steered have.
          in case you haven’t guessed I’ve been looking at the vast array of heavy drones available for a lot less than a second hand car, it’s quite scary.
          Enforcement is going to be impossible though, that much is guaranteed.

          1. http://avherald.com/h?article=4a319157&opt=0
            Pretty extensive damage but even here there are doubters despite the article quotes the crew as saying they thought it was a bird strike.
            It obviously was not a bird strike.

            Someone said it could have been damage caused by the stair steps — tongue in cheek I say – it would have had to be a very long delayed bang to be heard only whilst airborne.

            Granted it could have been an impact with some other projectile as whatever caused it never ended up embedded in the nose cone.

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