Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

U.K. to Require Registration and Safety Tests for Drone Owners

  • Invisible ‘geo-fencing’ also planned for sensitive buildings
  • Rules aim to balance public safety, growth in nascent sector

Drones will have to be registered and their users required to pass safety tests under new rules to be announced by the U.K.’s Department for Transport on Saturday.

Registration will be mandated for owners of drones 250 grams (8.8 ounces) or larger after research found that drones as small as 400 grams (14 ounces) could damage the windscreens of helicopters. Other security measures like “geo-fencing” -- GPS-based technology programmed into drones to prevent them from flying into sensitive areas such as prisons and airports -- are also under consideration, according to a statement from the department.

“Our measures prioritize protecting the public while maximizing the full potential of drones,” aviation minister Martin Callanan will announce Saturday, according to the statement.

The new rules come at a time when drone flights are skyrocketing for both personal and corporate uses but the laws haven’t caught up, leaving open the possibility of significant harm. It would only take a drone as big as 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) to “critically” damage the windscreen of an airliner flying at high speed, according to research from the Department for Transport, the British Airline Pilots Association and the Military Aviation Authority.

“Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives,” Callanan will announce. “But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones and introducing safety awareness tests to educate users, we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”

The National Air Traffic Service said in an emailed statement it welcomed plans for a registration requirement and mandatory drone safety awareness.

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