Britons given drones for Christmas have been warned they could face prosecution for flying them dangerously.
The gadgets have been one of this year’s must-have gifts, prompting the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to highlight strict rules that recreational users must follow after they were involved in a number of incidents and near-misses.
Fears that unmanned aircraft could pose a danger were heightened earlier this month after investigators revealed a drone came within 20ft of a passenger plane as it was about to land at Heathrow Airport. Regulations in force include a ban on flying remote-controlled devices over congested areas or within 50 metres (164ft) of people or buildings without official permission and breaches can result in the operator being taken to court and fined up to £5,000.
The CAA said anyone flying drones illegally can be prosecuted and its officials are working closely with police and other agencies on the issue.
La Poste, France’s national postal service, is developing a six-rotor drone able to deliver parcels – notably medical supplies – as far as 12 miles away to isolated parts of the country
Gerry Corbett, the organisation’s unmanned aircraft specialist, said: ”We know that unmanned aircraft of various shapes and sizes have been popular Christmas presents this year.
”The technology has improved markedly over the last year or so, while individual products, particularly those for the recreational market, have become much more affordable.
”However, people using multi-rotor devices, such as quadcopters, for fun have to understand that they are subject to rules and cannot be used indiscriminately.
”Unmanned aerial technology is still in its infancy and offers huge recreational and commercial potential. But it is vital that users understand the safety rules, so the industry can develop safely and profitably.”
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said it has recently received reports of several examples of drones being flown within yards of planes as they came in to land. In May a remote-controlled quadcopter – one of the most popular types of drone – came close to colliding with a passenger plane as it was preparing to land at Southend airport in Essex.
Balpa’s flight safety specialist Steve Landells said: ”Drones will be a hugely popular present this Christmas and we want people to enjoy them, but it is really important that they understand the risks and know the rules.
”Some of the drones being unwrapped on Christmas Day can reach heights of more than 2,000 feet.
”We have seen a number of examples recently of drones being flown within metres of planes coming in to land, which is extremely dangerous and puts the safety of everyone on board and people on the ground at risk.
”We want people to fly drones responsibly and safely to avoid causing damage, avoid being prosecuted and most importantly, avoid endangering others.”
Balpa was among organisations representing pilots and users of drones which issued a joint call for action this week to ensure unmanned aerial vehicles are flown safely.
The CAA has successfully prosecuted two cases relating to unmanned aircraft this year.
In April a man was fined £800 for flying a drone through restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine base in what was thought to be the first such prosecution anywhere in the world.
The following month a man was fined for flying a quadcopter over a number of rides at Alton Towers in November last year.
Small drones range in price from less than £50 to several hundred pounds. Tina Brevity, director of the Society for Unmanned Aerial Systems, said recreational owners mainly use them for flying as a hobby or taking aerial images and footage.
She said: ”They will continue to get even more popular because of how easy they are to purchase and reasonable to buy.”
Retailers and manufacturers have reported strong interest in drones and similar devices this year.
Oliver Meakin, managing director at Maplin Direct, said: ”Drones have been the ‘must-have’ gift this Christmas. We’ve seen a huge spike in the number of customers buying them compared to last year, and in the run-up to Christmas.
”Drones can obviously be a lot of fun, but they should be used carefully and in compliance with the law – all guidelines are available on the Maplin website.”
The Phantom range by DJI is among the leading brands.
Michael Perry, a spokesman for the firm, confirmed they had seen a ”strong interest” in their products in the UK over the holiday season.
He said: ”We are encouraged by the UK setting out clearer rules of the road for small unmanned systems and will be collaborating with them to show the different levels of autonomy – such as setting no-fly zones around airports – that will make it easier for pilots to fly successfully.”
Source: The Telegraph