Font Size: A A A

Home > News > Case Studies > Drone consultation

Case Studies

Drone consultation

How can the UK have proper use of drones? So the Government is asking in a consultation exercise. More needs to be done to enforce the drone flying restrictions, given the breaches, the Government admits.

The 58-page document, Unlocking the UK’s high tech economy, opens with the case for use of drones, whether for leisure or for services such as deliveries; but adds that they can also be misused and challenge safety, security and privacy. The consultation is asking whether penalties for breaking laws on drones should be increased, and whether a new offence for the misuse of drones is required. And how can drone flight restrictions be better enforced?

Department for Transport Minister for Aviation Lord Ahmad writes: “Whilst the vast majority of drone users are law-abiding and have good intentions, it is likely that some are not aware of the rules that apply and inadvertently break them, risking safety, privacy and security. It also cannot be ignored that there will be some who will purposefully break the laws on drones, and potentially use drones to cause harm.”

As for the negative or harmful uses of drones, the document admits smuggling of ‘harmful substances’ into prisons; invasions of privacy, and interference with commercial aircraft. “While some misuse could be unintentional and may result from leisure drone users being unfamiliar with the technology and law, other misuse is intentional and both types can be extremely dangerous.”

The civil aviation regulator the CAA and Secretary of State for Transport have legal powers to protect what the document terms ‘key infrastructure such as nuclear power stations, prisons, key royal residences and parts of central London’. Some of these restrictions can be temporary; for example, all flying was prohibited in and over central London for the visit of US President Barack Obama; ‘and others are permanent restrictions’.

Recreational and commercial drones in the UK must be flown within visual line of sight of the operator. If ‘sense and avoid’ technology will allow drones to automatically detect and avoid other flying objects, that might make it safe for drones to go beyond line of sight – but could that be misused? Here as elsewhere in the consultation, the document raises the potential benefits ‘such technological innovation can bring’, whilst also seeking to ‘guard against the misuse of drones’. Such misuse may be merely careless; or operators using camera drones in a similar way to CCTV and not aware of the Data Protection Act and the surveillance camera code of practice. As for how criminal operators can be brought to justice, the document only says that it ‘can be challenging to trace the operator’.

As for what the Government is doing practically, the document mentions among other things the CAA’s awareness and publicity campaign, and the website; and geo-fencing (software and data contained in the drone that can restrict it from flying in certain areas, such as airports, also known as geo-limitation. According to the document: “The Government is working with manufacturers to more effectively implement geo-fencing restrictions in the UK. A ‘cross Government counter-drones group’ is to ‘review the risk and explore mitigations’; it’s now illegal to land a drone in a prison, or to use a drone to drop articles into a prison (such as ‘certain psychoactive substances’; and the ‘Prison Service is also trialling and evaluating a range of methods’. And the police have set up a ‘drones working group’. A ‘drone traffic management system’ is mooted, which would have to be cyber-secure.

The Government says that it’s considering for the ‘near future’ a registration scheme (at ‘a small charge’), which would require owners to register themselves and any drones they own weighing 250g and over (as in the USA). For security of sensitive sites, also considered is a legal requirement to notify when you are flying a drone via an app on your smart phone, for electronic identification of a drone and hence its operator. Here the document points to the recently launched NATS ‘Drone Assist’ app. According to the document: “For drones to become an accepted part of operating in society, drone operators should be willing to be registered, to be held accountable for their drone and acknowledge their responsibility to comply with the law.”

Also considered are insurance and registration; for civil (not military) drones. Visit The deadline for responding to the document is March 15.


Raj Samani, CTO EMEA, at the IT security product company Intel Security, says: “Drones continue to become more and more mainstream. Both Amazon and UPS have announced plans to deliver packages via drones. This creates a realistic target for a criminal looking to make a quick buck. Someone looking to “dronejack” deliveries could find a location with regular drone traffic and wait for the targets to appear. Once a package delivery drone is overhead, the drone could be sent to the ground, allowing the criminal to steal the package.

“More and more law enforcement agencies are also turning to drones to assist in surveillance and crowd control. In a highly charged situation like a protest or active shooter situation, a police drone would be a tempting target for someone looking to remain unseen by law enforcement. What makes drones potentially easier to hack is they are designed to have a quick and easy setup, often using unencrypted communication and many open ports. We predict in 2017 that drone exploit toolkits will find their ways to the dark corners of the Internet. Once these toolkits start making the rounds, it is just a matter of time before we see stories of hijacked drones showing up in the evening news. Even without a dronejacking toolkit in hand, we will begin to see an increase in drone-related incidents.”


Related News