Police secure new powers to combat illegal drones

Farmers will be affected by new police powers to tackle the illegal use of drones following travel chaos at Gatwick airport over Christmas.

New legislation will give police officers the power to land drones, search premises and seize drones – and will require users to produce the proper documentation.

Some 140,000 passengers saw their travel plans thrown into turmoil following multiple reports that drones were being flown illegally in the vicinity of Gatwick on 19-21 December.

See also: Drones – everything you need to know about staying legal

Similar reports saw flights delayed this month at Heathrow airport too.

Police will now have the power to search premises and seize drones – including electronic data stored within the device – where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.

New safety proposals include significantly extending the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned from being flown.

Exclusion zone

This builds on the government’s changes to the law last year which made it illegal to fly a drone higher than 120m or within 1km of an airport.

Drones are increasingly important business tools for farmers and agronomists who use them legitimately.

Berkshire farmer Colin Rayner, who farms at Colnbrook under the Heathrow flightpath, said extending the exclusion zone would affect his business.

Mr Rayner uses a drone to assess crop development and disease – as well as to combat crime by monitoring farm buildings and vehicles.

“Basically, it means that on 50% of our fields we won’t be able to use drones,” he said.

Safety measures

The government has also announced that all drone users will have to sign a register and undergo an online competency test from November 2019.

Aviation minister Liz Sugg said drones had the potential to bring significant benefits and opportunities – but safety and security had to be top priorities.

“Along with additional safety measures, these will help ensure the potential of this technology is harnessed in a responsible and safe way,” she said.

“The police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences to ensure immediate and effective enforcement of vital rules.

“Fines of up to £100 could be given for offences such as failing to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing their registration to operate a drone.”

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