Drone Registration Tax Sought By UK’s CAA

As the UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority is tasked with “making aviation better for those who choose to fly and those who do not”. Their latest plan to further this mission comes in the form of a drone registration tax. The proposal, which is open to online responses until 7 June, seeks to pass on the cost of a drone registration system to those who register themselves.

Proposals for a drone registration scheme have been in the works for a while now, and if enacted it would go into effect on 1 November. Owners of craft weighing more than 250 g (0.55 lbs) would have to fork out £16.50 ($21.50) per year, ostensibly to pay for the administration of the scheme. The CAA are basing this rate on as many as 170,000 people registering. In the US, the FAA has a drone registration program in place that requires registration based on the same 250 g weight guideline, but only charges $5 (£3.82) for a 3-year license, about thirteen times less than the CAA proposal.

Long-time readers will be familiar with our ongoing coverage of the sometimes-farcical saga of drone sightings in British skies. Airports have been closed (and implausible excuses have been concocted), but one thing remains constant: no tangible proof of any drone has yet been produced. Faced with a problem it doesn’t fully understand, the British Government is looking to this registration program.

It goes without saying that people misusing drones and endangering public safety should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. But our concern is that the scale of the problem has been vastly over-represented, and that this scheme will do little to address either the problem of bogus drone sightings or the very real problem of criminal misuse of drones for example to smuggle contraband into prisons. It’s difficult to think this measure will have an effect on the number of incidents blamed on drones, and the high cost included in the proposal is a troubling burden for enthusiasts who operate responsibly.

54 thoughts on “Drone Registration Tax Sought By UK’s CAA

    1. That’s the way to do it –

      We don’t really know what we are doing so well put a tax on it and everything will be fine.

      Some days I wish I could be a politician but I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed but I don’t think I could be that stupid if I tried.

          1. The BBC TV licencing system funds the BBC radio – it’s not funded by advertising, as the other commercial stations are, and exports of dramas are limited, hence the encompassment.

        1. yep radio is license free, I have a small workshop with its own address, the BBC licensing goons sent me a letter saying if i used any BBC content I had to pay the TV fee, but after some digging it turns out radio is free. they do NOT mention this in their correspondence. so always worth highlighting for others. I stated as much on the online forms and have heard nothing back.

    2. There is no radio tax, there is no TV tax, just a license, which is in essence a payment for some of the TV channels you receive if you wish to have a TV, The Drone “tax” is not much different to the US drone “Tax”, covering cost of administration is not unreasonable. I am not convinced this will help any issues that with drones but the cost is reasonable for a registration / licensing scheme.

    3. “Radio Tax, Television Tax, Drone Tax, what are you people doing over there!?”

      Enjoying the best TV and radio in the world and without any adverts. How’s Fox News doing?

  1. Well no matter where I live I will not be paying such a tax. Most likely I’ll live out my life with no desire or need to own a “drone”. In the event I ever due, I would mind the tax if actually dis something.. aevery time I leave my drive I see the daxea I pay to driv net me.

  2. The drone tax is most likely put in place to discourage people from buying drones, and solving the issue at its roots. Only the persons who are serious about it will buy one… and also the ones who have complete disregards of rules and most likely to fly over an airport.

      1. No this argument can not be applied to cars and or guns. Cars and transportation have become a necessary element of every day life as it took over for horses. Also, people who have cars generally pay the taxes and registration fees as there is an entire branch of law enforcement devoted to making sure that said things are done.

        As for guns, well their simple mechanical utility means that they will always be useful to nefarious people regardless of taxes or enforcement.

        Your attempt to bring your own personal politics into this debate is illogical as the utility of both guns and cars are incredibly different from small unmanned aircraft. That being said, the original argument is flawed as a drone tax will not discourage anyone as long as there is no enforcement. Said enforcement could only be applied to people actually using the drones and not to the components required for drones (as those components have multiple uses) so you would end up with another branch of law enforcement which only dealt with drones, or you would have to empower and train regular law enforcement to deal with the issue and then the rules would not be evenly enforced as the risk of improper drone use is heavily dependent on location.

      2. Pretty much all states tax cars somehow already…most tax the fuel, Germany has a road tax of sorts and then there are tolls of all kinds, all allegedly to pay for the infrastructure. There’s also VAT, which in case of a car is a signifficant amount of money.
        As for guns – pretty much all countries that require a license will want some cash for the registration, some way more then others.

        Should you be charged for some bogus registration bullshit that will in no shape or form benefit you? You decide…

  3. Incredible piece of journalism, Jenny.

    Yes, that was sarcastic. Your deliberate mis-characterisation of a fee as a tax, thus playing on the emotional response of your readers, is irresponsible and unbecoming. Nowhere in the linked article is the word “tax” used, that came from your keyboard. As a result, the first 6 responses to your post are coloured by unnecessary emotion and thoroughly lacking in intelligent reason. Noise, not signal.

    “…as a statutory body, the CAA has to recover its costs from those it regulates.”

    The alternative way of funding the CAA would from the Government budget, i.e. actual taxation. You are exactly wrong to call a usage fee “taxation”. It isn’t actually possible for you to be more wrong about this.

    “This is the funding model used for its other aviation regulation functions, for example regulation of pilots, engineers, general aviation, airlines and airports. ”

    The CAA’s funding model is explicitly not taxation, but usage fees. That is not taxation.

    Look, I get it. Hobbyists are worrying about paying their 16 quid annual fee to fly their 500 quid drone. They’d much prefer anarchy – the proper kind, where the CAA wouldn’t be required to do anything about drones. But we just had that, and the decade or so trial proved that idiot arseholes ruin everyone’s fun. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer not to die in a fireball because the ‘plane I was travelling in sucked a drone through its engine, and the CAA is the correct authority to create appropriate regulation to prevent that.

    I usually like your posts. Then again, you’re usually better. Much better. If you want to write trash, take it to 4chan.

    1. Tax – a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.

      So, ya you can cry all you wanT, but it’s a tax. Maybe you should gp back to 4xhan. ;)

      1. “contribution to state revenue, levied by the government…”

        Thanks for confirming my point. The CAA is not the government, and the fees it charges do not go to state revenue.

      1. Taxes (when done correctly) are a burden that is shared by everyone that is supposed to benefit from whatever the tax buys.

        Fees are a burden imposed upon specifically the person who does NOT benefit.

        Taxes (done right) are good.
        Fees are extortion made legal by force of law

        1. Coddswaddle. Do you not benefit from driving a car? I challenge you to walk everywhere for a month and then tell me that I’m wrong. The inspection fees that you pay to drive a car specifically keep you safe more so than everyone else – you are extremely likely to be involved in any accident involving your car, but the odds that I’m involved are miniscule, almost zero.

          Taxes done right are good. Everyone benefits. Fees done right are good – the payer benefits from their financial contribution by acquiring privilege that non-payers do not have. Either done badly is problematic.

          Taxes by definition go to government coffers. They may be redistributed at the will of the ruling administration subject to constitutionally-mandated oversight (King, Parliament, Congress, delete as appropriate), but are rarely, if ever, ring-fenced to pay for a particular purpose. Your income tax, your VAT, your beer duties, all end up in the same pot of gold. I’d imagine many in the UK would happily see beer duties eliminated, or redistributed in a way more likely to ensure survival of the pubs.

          Fees might by paid to government, local, state, or national, or they might be paid to an non-governmental organisation mandated by the government to provide some privilege, or they might be paid to a private person or company. Done well, they are used to cover the cost of, and the administration costs of, the privilege provided, minus any subsidy provided from government coffers in the public interest.

          UK pensions and US Social Security retirement are each funded through similar non-tax contributions;

          A UK pension is funded through National Insurance contributions. The money collected is held in a National Insurance Fund and can be used to only pay for certain welfare programs, including state pensions and the NHS. Surpluses are invested in UK Government securities.

          US Social Security retirements are funded through contributions not taxes. Contributions go directly to the Social Security Trust Fund, that can only be used to fund social security retirement programs. Surpluses are invested in US Government securities. (Note that SS disability insurance and Medicare Part D are funded from the Treasury, i.e. taxation)

          In neither case can the respective government justifiably use the funds’ assets itself for other purposes. Theoretically it could pass laws to wrest control of the assets to itself, and then do what it liked, or it could refuse to pay the return on the invested securities. Either path would be a death sentence to foreign investment – look at what happened in Venezuela when they wrested control of foreign oil facilities. When you consider the level of foreign investment in government securities of both countries and their current debt burdens, it becomes clear that a collapse in foreign investment would be intolerable. Both countries rely on continued revolving investments, and those investments are considered amongst the safest investments on the planet. That’s why it’s insane when certain politicians suggest eliminating Social Security. That’s a euphemism for raiding the trust fund – an act that would lead to the eventual but certain bankruptcy of the USA. It would take decades to regain the position of trust that it currently holds. (As an aside, 401k investments would get hit too – private investors would also seek to minimize their dollar losses and move their investments to other countries)

    2. Im not weighing into the tax or not a tax debate but i have a quick question:

      How exactly is the CAA going to stop those idiots who have been ruining everyone’s fun? especially because those idiots are probably not going to register their drones anyways.

      That is the annoying thing about these registration schemes, they only serve to bring penalties on the people dumb enough to register and then do something dumb with their drones. A registration scheme will not solve any of the problems that the UK has been dealing with in regards to drones encroaching upon airport airspace.

      1. I guess it gives them some legal avenue to pursue, if you’re flying a drone near an airport but the police catch you when it’s in the back of your car you’ll probably get a strongly worded letter.

    3. I think referring to as a tax makes a poignant point about where the money is going, and how effectively it will be used.
      Good journalism should invoke emotions. Responsible adults should be able to control theirs.

    4. Yeah, I’d rather not have a drone fly through the engine of the plane I’m in, either. But charging hobbyists tons of money isn’t going to stop someone from going down to best buy and buying one to fly in front of the airport.
      “Well, I was going to go endanger a bunch of lives and do something that’s already super illegal just for fun, but it turns out I’ll have to pay $20 to make flying it illegal in one less way, so I guess I won’t bother?”

      Also, It’s worth considering that your example of a hobbyist having one expensive (500 GBP) drone is probably far from the norm. I’ve been flying (and building) them for a long time now. I probably have 10 or so quadcopters in various states of repair, and a half dozen foam planes (not counting the ones <250g) I would be paying closer to 200GBP/yr.

      Luckily, I'm not in the UK. Unluckily, Canada's doing the same garbage starting June 1. (only $5 per IIRC, but still entirely pointless)

  4. The licensing for drones is an utter disgrace. The CAA has calculated the fee based on setting up the database (£2.8m AFAIR), and a running cost of £1.3m per year based on 170,000 users registering. There’s a youtube video making a point that a database this size could be run from a £500 laptop left to it’s own devices.

    The £16.50 fee is also an estimate based on the number of reistrations, is annual, and could go up if the required number of registrations aren’t met.

    The British Model Flying Association have 30,000 members with an associated database, and have offered to run the database at cost, and haven’t even received the courtesy of a reply from the CAA. How on earth the CAA get a figure of 170,000 I have no idea.

    Add to that the fact that drone pilots now need to take an on line exam to demonstrate competency to fly drones.

    It’s a political excercise designed to score points to appease Joe public, and will have absolutely no impact on rogue drone users at all – it’s these that aren’t going to bother registering, and certainly aren’t going to be policed.

    It’s a joke.


    1. Thank you for some honest opinion based on reason.

      I don’t know where the CAA gets its numbers from, perhaps based on known drone sales and growth projected forward a few years? A guess. However, 170k is 0.25% of the UK population. Do you think that number is high or low? I’d suspect low.

      I don’t know that it’s fair to compare drone usage with pre-existing flying models usage. Their raison d’etre is completely different. Models are about simulation and/or flying skills. Most drone flights are about exploration and videography – racing drones excepted. Whilst the offer by the BMFA is generous, and they have demonstrated a history of good governance within their sphere of influence, that doesn’t guarantee that they are the correct organisation to run the database. For example, is it in the BMFA’s interests to handle commercial registrations and support companies using drones to perform aerial inspections of powerlines, high rise buildings, house guttering etc.? With volunteers doing the work?

      That 170k number is one registration every 40 seconds, assuming a 47 week work year of 40 hours with no bathroom breaks. That obviously just isn’t going to happen with one employee. I’d estimate that 6 people could do it, allowing 240 seconds average per registration – to open the envelope, read and enter the data, charge the fee, etc. Let’s assume that average covers bathroom breaks, training, other non-productive time (meetings), and the productivity range of a typical employee over the job lifecycle – from slow trainee through speedy performer to don’t-give-a-shit-anymore burnout. Bare minimum – 6 people at UKP25k, and a manager at UKP50k. That’s 200k in salaries. Allow the same again for pensions, office space, utilities and other OpEx. That’s UKP400k just to register the drones, not including any investigation or enforcement activity.

      Here’s the thing – the CAA already perform several similar activities – plane licensing, pilot licensing, and the like. I’d bet that the consultancy firm tasked with putting this proposal together were given access to some real numbers needed to handle those tasks. I’d be willing to bet that the UKP1.3M number has a better basis in reality than my napkin math above.

      Anyone proposing to do this on a 500 quid laptop is a fool and would immediately discount themselves from my consideration if I had any say in the matter.

      Do you have a problem with required education? You need to prove ability to legally drive a car, fly a plane or helicopter. You need to prove ability to captain a boat. You need to prove ability to perform surgery, to perform electrical installations, or do things in any number of fields where incompetence could lead to loss of life, or high financial consequences. Last years drone activities at Gatwick cost millions of pounds in delays in order to prevent potentially massive loss of life, and you’re complaining that drone activities should require education. Sorry, but I cannot agree with you. Education is a cornerstone of society, and no-one should be able to claim ignorance as an excuse for anti-social behaviour.

      Asking immigrants if, “they are, or have ever been, a member of a terrorist organization..”, isn’t designed to catch terrorists at the border. Obviously everyone ticks “No”. The point is to provide enforcement options down the line. Deporting someone for perjury on an immigration form is easy. Rogue drone operators who fly in contravention of regulations (with or without registration and/or required education) will now find themselves imperiled legally, with possible financial and criminal penalties. That threat will reduce the number of rogue operations, and hence the risk associated with drones.

      That is the point of this exercise. Yes, it is political. Anything that uses compromise to create policy is by its very nature, political. Appease the public? Yes please. Appease me. I don’t need my Christmas travel disrupted by dickheads – I demand appeasement, and if it costs me an extra 20 quid a year to fly my drone, and requires that I spend an hour or two understanding what I can and cannot do with it, then fine. I’d prefer an operator license with different classes allowing for different restrictions based upon drone type, and area of operation, but I can see why they need to start with drone registration. In the USA the FCC regulates both radios and radio operators. The radio regulation allows for imports to be controlled, such that the risk to bands important for human safety (public safety officials, aviation), and national security (military) is reduced. I could see a future requirement for drones to need to transmit an identifying beacon. Want to hold a lucrative contract to perform drone videography over 90 thousand heads at the FA Cup Final, or to use drones to perform aerial inspections within the London’s square mile? I could see that needing an advanced operator license entailing more training and proof of experience, and using drones with beacons that prove that they are certified for such use – designs with proven safety records (6 rotor to better recover from failure, redundant radio receivers, redundant GPS, proven fail-safes, etc.)

      As an enthusiast now, you have a choice. Be part of defining a future vision, or keep just saying “No!”, and let it define you instead.

  5. Yeah good luck with that
    So the only people that wont register are the people that are probably operating them in an illegal manner so what is the point?
    We have a lot of stupid laws over here, this is set to be yet another one of them

    Right up there with the laws on knives, it’s a knee jerk reaction by politico’s looking to be “seen to be doing something” whilst not actually doing anything at all effective
    Other than potentially criminalising thousands of people they can then point a finger at and call bad

    1. I agree entirely with your points about the stupidity and un-enforceability of this nonsense. Worse still, they propose to extend it to cover model aircrat too with a minimum age for registrants of 18! What are they going to do – bang up schoolkids found in possesssion of balsa wood?

      1. “What are they going to do – bang up schoolkids found in possesssion of balsa wood?”

        Well, after seeing what’s possible in the UK, I literally would not be surprised.

    1. To me the following rules just seem like common sense but I don’t know how they could be unambiguously made into law:

      In a “very urban” setting (I’m picturing places like NYC, downtown Chicago, etc…) toy aircraft should only be allowed in parks and only then if not flown over non-participants heads. It’s just too crowded, the possibilities of hitting someone are too high.

      In “the country” people have much more land and rightfully do not expect to find others on their property. There is a strong expectation of privacy. Shooting down a strange “drone” makes good sense to me in that environment.

      In more mildly urban or suburban settings forget about it. Population density is low enough to make people strikes unlikely but yards are too small to confine a flight to. If you really expect privacy outside of your house in such a setting you are an idiot and I do not care if it offends you. Your lack of contact with reality makes your thoughts unworthy of consideration. Generations before quad copters all your neighbors have known everything that happens in your yard. If you don’t want to be seen then go inside your house and draw the curtains or else move to the country. And yes, I say that living in such a place myself. Here I have no problem when I hear the sound of the neighbor kid’s quad copter, look up and find it overhead. I am just happy to see he is doing something other than vegging out in front of a tv or a video game.

      1. Exactly!
        Here’s a couple of self-tests.

        Can I safely play a game of catch here?
        A) It’s too crowded. Don’t fly the quadcopter either.
        B) This is a good place to play catch. Fly away!

        If I have sex in the back yard and the neighbors see me:
        A) They will call the police on me. – I didn’t have an expectation of privacy did I? Let the neigbor kid fly his drone so long as it stays a respectful distance overhead.
        B)I am the one calling the police on those trespassers! – I must live where I really do expect privacy. Shoot the drone down!
        C) The neighbors join in. – Drone? Get a life, there are obviously better things to focus one’s attention on in this neighborhood!

      2. Even in “the country” I’d say shooting down a drone would be stupid. Maybe if it’s so low that it’s at risk of harming people, or if it’s annoying cattle (I’m sure there are people who do this). If it’s flying some tens or hundreds of meters above the land and whatever is on the land I’d consider it a non-issue. Same as the manned aircraft that fly over “the country”.

  6. This world has far too many freeloaders.

    If a license, permit or other form of registration requirement is to be imposed upon the individual ostensibly for the benefit of all of society then all of society should share the cost of it, not just the individual. This should be self evident for any form of registration whether it be drones, cars guns, etc…

    Think of it this way, even a person who never has and never will drive is dependent upon a safe road system. Does traveling via bus make them immune to this? No! Nobody wants a bad driver or a car with faulty brakes to hit the bus while they are in it. Even a lifetime shut-in depends on safe roads so that their enabler(s) can bring them food.

    Likewise if one is actually so foolish as to believe that they need protecting from the plague of drones that have been falling on everyone’s heads let them pony up themselves.

  7. The very fact that the UK blindly accepted the “pulled it out of our arse” 250 g limit WAGed up by the FAA’s farcical UAS industry task force in November of 2015 shows that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. READ the short task force report, analyze their calculations and excuses for not taking extremely importation factors into account (when they actually bothered to provide excuses) and try not to laugh. Definitely do not be drinking coffee like I was while reading this garbage which would be laughed out of any peer-reviewed journal.


  8. Here in Canada, we’ve got similar new rules starting in June.

    There’s 3 major problems with this kind of “tax”, “fee” or whatever you want to call it.

    Firstly. It will be entirely ineffective. People who are using them for criminal purposes don’t care about being “legal” so they won’t register. People who are using them knowingly recklessly don’t want to get caught, so they won’t register.
    People who are well meaning, but flying dangerously out of ignorance may register, but don’t know they’re doing anything wrong, so they’ll still be a danger. (This last group is the most prevalent, and the most fixable)

    Secondly, It puts a large financial burden on the people who are currently the most likely to help the problem of unintentionally dangerous flying. Many of us who are into the hobby enjoy teaching new people how to fly, and that includes how to keep it safe. Those of us who want to follow the rules may give up, since it’s basically impossible (or excessively expensive). When there’s nobody teaching the noobs to fly safely, we’ll have even more chaos.

    Thirdly, they’re written under the incorrect assumption that everyone’s going to go buy a single expensive drone.
    Many of us build them ourselves. I’ve probably got about a dozen quadcopters and planes which are over the 250g AUW limit. They’re also often in a state of flux. If I crash one of my foam planes, I’ll take the electronics out, and build another one. (what am I registering? The piece of foam board? The receiver? The flight controller?) I often build something new, and then take it out to see if it flies. Will I now have to build it, then register it, then when I find out that it’s a bad design, somehow move that registration to the next contraption?

    1. A farily simple solution – do not register anything… If you simply comply with this bullshit, it’s only a matter of time until they demand more money or more restrictions. Registering will in no way shape or form benefit you. Once you are in a database, they’re not going to give up any of the data, even if you sell all your “drones”.

  9. What’s better than a bureaucrat shuffling paper from one pile to another? A bureaucrat that gets paid by the papers originators to shuffle paper from one pile to another.

    Though I doubt the proposed taxes and fees will cover the bureaucracy that will emerge, given that one of the foundational laws of government is that any paper shuffling job shall consume all the available funding, so that additional funds shall be made available in the next year.

  10. Typical British attitude. If it’s fun, tax it.

    What would it cost to setup a computer-based database system linked to the InterNet?

    If they do charge, simply register one drone and use the same ID on all you drones. Manufacturer: D-I-Y

    Next they will want on-board beacons so they can track fictional drones as they fly around Gatwick, or allegedly fly at tens of thousands of feet and get spotted by British Airways pilots flying at hundreds of miles per hour (even higher numbers of kilometres).

    Coming soon licencing fees for model boats and remote controlled racing cars?

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