Police to get new powers to tackle illegal drone use

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Police will be given new powers to tackle the illegal use of drones, the government has announced.

The area around airports where drones are banned from flying will also be extended, and from 30 November operators of drones between 250g and 20kg will need to be registered.

Labour said action on drones should have been taken years ago.

Last month flights from Gatwick were suspended for more than 36 hours after drones were reported over the airfield.

The plans follow a consultation into the use of drones which began in July.

The government said it would also expand technology to detect and repel drones from sites like airports and prisons, to prevent any repeat of events like those at Gatwick airport in December.

New legislation will give police additional powers to land drones and require users to produce the appropriate documentation.

They will also be able to search premises and seize drones – including the electronic data stored within the device – where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.

For minor drone offences, police will be able to issue fixed-penalty notices, with fines of up to £100 for offences such as failing to comply with an officer when instructed to land a drone or not showing the registration required to operate a drone.

Registered drone users will also need to take an online competency test.

Speaking in the Commons Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the disruption caused to flights at Gatwick was “deliberate, irresponsible and calculated, as well as illegal”.

He said the Ministry of Defence remained “on standby” to deal with any further problems caused by drones at airports.

Last year the government made it illegal to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or within 1km of an airport.

The exclusion zone will now be extended to the current Air Traffic Zone around airports, which is approximately a 5km radius, with additional extensions from runway ends.

Endangering the safety of an aircraft is a criminal offence which can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

The number of aircraft incidents involving drones has grown dramatically in the past few years. In 2013 there were zero incidents, compared with more than 100 last year.

There has also been an increase in the use of drones to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into prisons.

Aviation minister Liz Sugg said: “Drones have the potential to bring significant benefits and opportunities, but with the speed of technological advancement comes risk, and safety, and security must be our top priorities.”

She said the new measures would “help ensure the potential of this technology is harnessed in a responsible and safe way”.

But Labour’s shadow transport minister Andy McDonald said while the measures were welcome, they should have been introduced sooner.

“Labour has repeatedly warned Department for Transport ministers over the last several years that they needed to take action on drones yet nowhere near enough has been done,” he said.

He added that the failure to bring forward detailed plans on drones had “disastrous consequences” and it was “astonishing” the government had no procedures in place to deal with events like those at Gatwick airport.

Story originally at BBC.com

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