Our Thoughts on the Latest UK Drone Rules

June 20, 2018

The Department for Transport recently announced amendments to the current regulations in the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) as well as for consultation in the summer for proposals to revise the underlying legislation. The first two of the four topics in the ANO amendment will come into force from 30th July 2018. The other two have a longer timescale, coming into force November 2019.

In this blog Mike Gadd, who recently joined the team as Head of International Regulatory Affairs from the CAA, considers the implications of these amendments and how Altitude Angel has – or will - address these.

Height limit of 400ft for all drone flights

The ANO regulations currently contain the limitation that ‘the person in charge … must not fly the aircraft … at a height of more than 400ft feet above the surface…’ (Art 94(4)(c)). However, this regulation applies to small UAS of more than 7kg. Hence, this amendment clarifies that it will apply to all small UAS unless as maybe specified otherwise. This is therefore considered to be more of a clarification rather than a new regulation per se, as the height limit aspect is already addressed and supported by the Drone Assist and Guardian platforms.

One frequently asked question is where it applies from. As the rule is focused on the operation of drones and refers to “above the surface”, my interpretation is that it is the vertical height of the drone over the ground or water surface wherever it is flying. 

A restriction from flying drones within 1km of protected aerodromes in the UK, unless you have the permission of the Air Traffic Control unit in question

A core feature of the Drone Assist and Guardian applications (and, of course, the underlying data platform) is the clear display of zones that have restrictions, as well as many other areas, obstacles and features that need consideration for flying drones safely and with attention to potential privacy and/or security concerns. The information currently provided for airports on our first-party apps displays the full aerodrome traffic zone (ATZ).

With this ANO amendment, new boundary distances are set which may differ from that of the ATZ. In preparation for the amendment we are already updating the guidance provided (and the visual boundaries) to ensure the correct boundaries and applicable restrictions are reflected in accordance with this rule. This includes ensuring we continue to use the most trusted, accurate and up to date data to do this.

This is illustrated in the below diagrams taken from our free online Drone Safety Map.

Existing Rules:                                            

New Rules:

We have also developed the capability to simplify the process of gaining the necessary permission from the appropriate Air Traffic Control unit from directly within our applications, so we can make this as easy as possible for drone operators, while minimising the disruption to the ATC unit. We are now working with our partner NATS to roll out the necessary elements into the ATC units. (For a demonstration of this process working, please watch our video demonstration).

One final point on this amendment: several people have already identified the potential conflict that could arise from flying a drone close to 400 ft AGL only 1km from an aerodrome boundary.

We would just remind everyone that the rules in the ANO do not act in isolation of each other, and as such other regulations still apply, so Article 241 – “A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property” must still be considered. 

Registration

This amendment introduces a new requirement that operators of drones of 250g or more are to be registered. Altitude Angel believes there are significant benefits for users and operators of drones that registration will unlock, some of which we have outlined below. The principle of registration is a core element that underpins the range of facilities within our Drone Assist and Guardian applications, our wider international airspace management technologies, all of which are exposed through our developer platform.

Drone Assist from NATS (powered by Altitude Angel) on iOS and Android, in the UK alone, has ~80,000 registered users taking benefit of the information provided.

There are however two important elements to registration which are related to the intended purpose. The first element is about what data is captured and the second is about how that data may then be used (both by the registrar, as well as those who may have a legitimate need to access the data, such as 3rd party service providers). Whilst we wait for the finer detail to be defined, we can consider the opportunities.

Simply capturing the details of drone operators and holding this in an isolated database offers little benefit other than potentially identifying an organisation. Hence for effective enforcement response to concerns about inappropriate behaviour, which should help build confidence and trust in the industry, or even reuniting owner and lost drone, there needs to be a mechanism to link individual drones to their registered operator. In support of this, all our apps and APIs will soon enable registered users to generate labels with details such as a unique identification code (in human and machine-readable formats) for fixing onto their drones. This means each drone is identifiable but no personal info is made available without the user’s permission.

The real benefits however can only be fully realised if the data within the registration database is a master reference source that can be easily accessed by the wider communities, not only for enforcement but also in support of the vast range of services that will rely on data validation, for example the ATC unit approval as noted above. Clearly there must be strict rules on who can see what data and in a digitally connected ecosystem it will also need to be highly trustworthy and secure whilst still offering connection to a wide range of different user clients.

Pilots flying these drones (known as ‘remote pilots’) to obtain an acknowledgement of competency from the CAA, having passed requirements set by the CAA such as an online safety test to prove their knowledge of the restrictions

Pilot competency is a core element of the current regulatory system for commercial operators and is also being introduced by the European Aviation Safety Agency. However, the scheme is defined in terms of knowledge and skills, categories of aircraft etc. the maximum benefits arise when the specific details of an individual’s competency are captured and used within the data sets that can be automatically verified in support of safe and legal operations.

Altitude Angel supports these proposals as they offer logical and practical steps to build upon the successes of the current drone industry whilst assuring that potential concerns of those not directly involved can be addressed.

While there are still some areas that require further clarification and guidance, we will continue to engage in conversation with DfT and the CAA to help deliver robust, reliable solutions to bring these changes to the recreational and commercial drone use on behalf of our growing community.

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