UK To Register Multirotor Fliers

The British government has shown a surprisingly light touch towards drone fliers in the face of the strident media demands for them to be banned following a series of reports of near-misses with other aircraft. That is about to change with reports of the announcement of a registration scheme for craft weighing over 250 g (about 9 oz). Details are still a bit sketchy, but it is reported that there will be a written test and an element of geofencing around sensitive locations.

Our friendly professional multirotor flier’s reaction is that the existing laws are clear enough, and that this is likely to be no deterrent to any people who already use their drones illegally. It seems that the UK government is following the lead set by the USA in this matter, with the 250 g limit on that side of the Atlantic having already spawned an industry of smaller craft. Time will tell on whether the measures will be effective, we suspect that their success will depend on their not being overly stringent.

[Editor’s note: Following a lawsuit, the US FAA registration requirement was struck down for hobbyists because model aircraft are explicitly excluded from the FAA’s purview. The Brits are not likely to be so lucky.]

If there is a positive side to this announcement, it might be that the 250 g class of multirotor will inevitably become the focus of a lot of attention as manufacturers and engineers work to pack the most performance into the small platform. This small silver lining to the drone registration cloud might not be much, but we’ll take it.

We’ve covered the UK drone story as reported in the media in detail in the past.

Palace of Westminster image: Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5].

34 thoughts on “UK To Register Multirotor Fliers

  1. Levelling the rules between commercial and hobby fliers is probably a good thing. We don’t say only taxi drivers need a driving test. If commercial fliers do, so do hobbyists – and likely more so as they’re probably cheaper craft, and less experienced. Also levels the playing field between properly licences flyers and those flouting the laws.
    Whether we need registration for anyone is another question…

    1. But taxi drivers do need to take additional tests. They are held to a higher standard than the regular public, just like many other professionals are. Both need a driver’s license, but professionals need extra licenses and are required to submit to additional tests. On the flip side, these extra tests sometimes mean extra privileges. Whatever the case, people that deal with something on a daily basis for a living are generally held to higher standards.

      Besides, it would be a mistake to think requiring a license means the end of irresponsible flying. The people that would fly around without a license are the same people that are causing problems now. The (actual) incidents that we worry about are rarely caused by an enthusiast that is serious about the hobby. It does not help that the chances of getting caught are slim to none, which makes it unlikely for any rule to make an impact. For rules to be effective, effective and consistent enforcement is much more important than the severity of the punishment.

        1. Honestly, it is unlikely to make much of a dent. Registration is worthless without anyone looking at that registration. No agency has enough spare capacity to do this and there is no talk of increasing funding. Just like plunking down a security camera does not inherently increase safety, this is also unlikely to do so.

          Besides, it will be exactly the cowboys flying around without registration.

      1. Yes, for commercial users who’ve got extra rights (larger craft, flying over crowds, etc) then certainly additional tests are needed. But for someone flying otherwise as a hobbiest but now selling footage, the rules should be the same – white van drivers don’t need additional tests, just because their vans are used for work.

        I very much agree, registration won’t prevent careless or irresponsible fliers. It’s a pointless exercise. But it does help pros who want to keep the law and are up against others who can’t be bothered to get a pro licence.

      2. It’s more of a “gotcha” law, something to tack on to other charges more than anything else. I’ll go and get my stupid little piece of paper purely for the fact that I enjoy flying and don’t really fancy making some bored copper’s day by getting such an easy nick and potentially losing out on jobs because of a criminal conviction. I’d even go so far as to get a commercial licence if the cost wasn’t a barrier to entry and the utter stupidity of some of the requirements blow my mind.

  2. I think that the key word here is ‘models’. A plane modeled after a P-40, with a wingspan of maybe 3 feet, is,without a question, a ‘model’. Maybe I have not been paying attention, but I don’t recall any ‘full size’ quadracopters licensed by
    the FAA. So, if there is no ‘full size’ item, anything else is just an aircraft, and not ‘modeled’ after anything else.

    I’ve owned a few models in my day, and a few of them were ‘flying models’ with either rubber bands or gas engines propelling them through the air. Today’s ‘quadracopters’ are just aircraft, and don’t seem to be ‘modeled’ after anything else.

    Again, not being a licensed pilot, I don’t know if there is some kind of ‘size limit’ that kicks in before the FAA can demand
    Registration, flight safety proof, and airworthiness, etc.

    I’d hate to see it, but it appears that the FAA could simply state that these items are ‘aircraft’, not models, and require registration, after the manufacturers prove airworthiness and absolute safety, as they are required for larger items that
    carry people and/or cargo around.

    I suspect that there may be some dissent in the ranks, and likely some ‘corrections’ to my assumptions. I stand ready to accept both. This is all ‘off the top of my head’ with no research. (i.e. hunches and assumptions.) Please be kind when you assess my knowledge level. Thanks,

      1. But octos do: Casey Neistat warning.

        Shot in Finland where officials decided that flying machines are new technology and to accelerate the innovation and usage, rules should be light. As a side note, that event was investigated by officials and I believe they ended up event being planned well and executed with enough safety. Anyway there wasn’t much fuzz in my Internet.

        Unfortunately EU regulations are going to spoil this freedom too :(

    1. Rationally whether a RPV is modeled on a manned aircraft should be immaterial to regulation. Mass, flight speed, and operating parameters that impact risk to bystanders should be what determines what category of rules an RPV is governed by.

  3. Good luck with that Mr Plod, mono rotors are a thing already, just adjusting the shaft speed and/or the blade angle rapidly will allow you to control a single prop drone.

      1. You assume there that they have had the education to be considered a adult?more like they brainwashed by some social media that this is a right & privilege.
        Currently here in Zambia you require a PPL or CPL to fly any model aircraft including a toy drone like the HAD flyer, I agree that users need instruction and licencing but not for toys, however that does not stop the “youtuber” attitude to get that epic shot(s) at the risk of those around often with the mating call “screw the rules” .

  4. I’ve modified my six rotor copter for spraying paint. So many buildings were vandalized this summer :D
    So glad I don’t live in this toalitarian nanny state called UK.

  5. Lightweight Drones powered by solar cells and peltier cooled tuned laser. . I see a problem here.

    Also what about drones powered by DMFCs? End weight would be less than 250g if the fuel tank is empty.

    1. I was curious if there really were any near misses. I have seen some indication that the FAA realizes that most of the near misses in the U.S. are not actually quadcopters.

  6. There was a lot of discussion on this in various groups over the weekend. A major issue seems to be that there is no definition of a drone that distinguishes a type vehicle. at present it seems to be any remotely operated aircraft putting planes and helis in the firing line as well. A member who had been invited to some of the early consultations and had raised questions concerning home built multi rotors was then no longer invited to the meetings. These regulations are been put together by people who have no idea what they doing and don’t want to take actual advice from experts, they just want to be seen to be doing some thing in the eyes of an even less informed public. If this goes through the hobby is going to take a real hit.
    And in responce to the comment about taxi drivers. I don’t belive any of them do it for fun. also you don’t need a driving license to drive a car on private land. So this would make flying a 300 gram model aircraft more regulated than taking a couple of tons of car out on the roads and driving it 70 miles an hour a few feet from other cars, I have battery pack that weigh more than 300 grams.

  7. Now “drones” are the new UFO catch all – “was that a goose, any other large bird, or a plastic bag that you saw?” – “Nah, it was a drone, for sure.”

    How many air disasters lie at the feet of the pilots of those single, solitary incidences?

    How many air disasters lie at the landing gear of hobby aircraft?

    dead pilot’s lawyers love their new scapegoat….

  8. How many people were hurt by power tools in the UK last year? By bicyclists hurting themselves or causing auto accidents? How many training and registration requirements are mandatory for those examples and a bazillion others I haven’t listed?

    How many bird strikes on aircraft were there last year in the UK? There were 13,795 reported to the FAA in 2015 with 616 aircraft damaged. How many aircraft strikes by RC aircraft have there been in the UK -EVER-?

    Unfortunately, as always, fools are falling for a big government “fix” to a non-problem, one that won’t even work to stop the few “the rules don’t apply to me” idiots who know damned well that what they’re doing is wrong even without government training, who know the chances are slim they’ll be caught and who certainly wouldn’t be stupid enough to put any kind of registration markings on their aircraft.

  9. 737 Pilot on Airliners vs. Drones

    Much ado has been produced by the media about the hazards of drones flying in proximity to airliners, but I’m happy to report: it’s much ado about nothing.

    The hazard presented by unwanted objects in an aircraft’s flight path is nothing new. In fact, each year hundreds of bird strikes are dutifully and without fanfare reported by airline pilots as is required by law.

    (Actually, there were 13,795 bird strike reports made in the US in 2015 alone)

    What’s new is the opportunity for media and aviation “pundits” to claim more screaming headlines by overstating the drone hazard.

    First, consider the typical, average weight of the plentiful waterfowl populating the bird sanctuaries neighboring JFK, LGA, ORD, DFW, SEA, PDX, LAX, SAN, DCA, SFO, BOS and most Florida airports to name but a few. The weight varies from the 10-13 pound goose to the heavier seabirds like pelican which can weigh up to 30 pounds.

    Although the the media and some wannabe aviation pundits claim there are “drones of 50-60 pounds,” the fact is, the new, popular hobbyist drones are marvels of lightweight miniaturization, weighing a fraction of that.

    Now, consider the exposure: while the new hobbyist drones begin to enjoy an increasing level of retail sales, the bird hazard numbers literally in the millions. By sheer numbers alone, bird conflicts and even bird strikes dwarf the number of drone “sightings” by airliners, but they’re simply no longer news.

    Plainly stated, the traveling public – and thus the media – understand the exposure, accept it, and like the National Highway Traffic Safety traffic death toll, ignore it.

    Trundle out the “new menace” of drones and heads turn, headlines accrue, news ratings uptick, and those who know little about jetliners begin to smell fear.

    So let’s even go beyond the hazard and foresee an actual impact with a drone. I once flew from Pittsburgh to DFW with duck guts splattered all over my cockpit windscreen after hitting what maintenance technicians estimated to be a ten pound duck. There were two primary consequences I had to deal with.

    First, I had to look through duck guts for two and a half hours. They partially slid off, but most froze onto the window at altitude and stayed. Second, the crew meal enroute was less appetizing with the backdrop of frozen duck guts. That’s it.

    None of the birds went into either engine. No aircraft systems were affected. Nobody (besides Pittsburgh tower) knew until after landing when we filed the required reports.

    This is a pretty good predictor of what might happen if the rare, statistically minute chance of a drone-aircraft collision were to occur: likely, nada.

    Yes, there always the potential for engine damage when a “bird,” man made or real, is ingested by an engine. Nonetheless, of all the birds – man made or real – populating the skies around every major airport, drones are a minuscule fraction of the whole group that air travelers sensibly overlook day to day.

    So why not focus on that reality rather than the shrieking media and aviation “experts” offering unlikely and often, absurd “what ifs?”

    The answer is, the latter sells news, while the former undercuts the self-appointed aviation experts in and out of the media.

    So the choice is yours. You can embrace the misguided drone hysteria served up by the news and “experts,” or apply the same logic you do to every daily hazard – including the drive to the airport (over 32,000 traffic deaths in 2014) – which is: drive carefully, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

    Anything else is much ado about nothing.

  10. Now I have to say that I am for this legislation. For the only reason that it would stop, or at least reduce, the number of ignorant kids/Adults who go out an buy a DJI or other drone because they are in vogue and then fly them above your garden showing off their new toy to their mates.

    You get kind of sick of seeing them after the 1st time.

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