My noble friend, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport (Baroness Sugg) has made the following ministerial statement.
Today (27 November 2017) I am setting out new measures the government is taking to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the exciting and fast-growing drones market, while putting the correct legislative framework in place to guarantee it is also safe and secure.
As the government’s industrial strategy sets out, we have the potential to cement our status as the leading location where technology companies want to build their businesses, where scientists and engineers drive innovation and where investors want to invest. Drones are an important part of this emerging industry.
Our police, fire and search and rescue services all now regularly use drones in emergency situations to help save lives. Drones are also being used to inspect and maintain key national transport infrastructure – reducing the risk of accidents and driving industry productivity and efficiency.
UK drone companies are exporting their services across the world, showcasing Britain as a leader in innovative services and generating productivity and growth across a range of sectors.
The potential for expansion is significant, but this is an advancing and developing industry which faces a number of challenges. If we are to realise the full potential of this new technology, we must also maintain our world class aviation safety record and address certain safety and privacy concerns.
In response to our consultation on drones, we committed to a review of the current powers available to law enforcement agencies. My department has been working with the police, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. This review has highlighted some gaps, reflective of how aviation technology is being used in such a broad and varied way across many industries and by the public.
This can pose extra challenges for the police when investigating and prosecuting crimes, and when carrying out their duties to protect safety and security more generally.
As such, we will look to include in our draft bill new police powers where drone users would need to produce registration documents on request, ground a drone safely in certain circumstances and the ability to seize and retain a drone’s components if there is reasonable suspicion of it having been involved in an offence.
The consultation response also set out our intention to explore the concept of mandating the use of safety and airspace awareness apps. The draft bill will build the regulatory framework to ensure these apps meet required standards and issue correct information.
These kinds of apps give drone users easy access to the data they need to determine if a flight can be safely and legally made. Apps can also make it possible for drone users to make their flights visible to other airspace users, making drone use more accountable and transparent.
As well as safety issues, apps can help avoid compromising the security of surrounding organisations or industries such as national infrastructure, government and military sites. The app’s information can also advise on any particularly sensitive local sites, such as schools and residential areas, to respect the privacy of others.
Alongside the publication of the draft bill next spring, we will create the powers necessary for registration and leisure pilot testing through amendments to the Air Navigation Order (ANO), and we are developing the technical systems and educational materials that will be needed to implement these.
The government is also reviewing the potential restriction of all drones flying above 400 feet, as well as the use of drones within the proximity of an airport. Subject to the outcome of this review, we will also look to include these measures in the ANO amendment in spring 2018.
Finally, I want to update Parliament on progress with Project Chatham. This is the data project we announced in our consultation response to improve geo-fencing – when drones can be restricted from entering into ‘no-fly zones’ using the drone’s inbuilt GPS to find its location and prevent it from continuing if it approaches a restricted zone.
A group comprising departmental experts, the Civil Aviation Authority, and NATS (the national air traffic service provider), has been set up and is progressing well. To implement geo-fencing effectively this group is looking at how we release information on the UK’s airspace restrictions in a format that manufacturers and tech developers can easily use.
We are working to have a sample set of data ready for wider engagement with stakeholders by spring 2018. When fully developed, the data will help drone users fly safely in accordance with the rules.
Our approach will keep Britain at the forefront of the global market, whilst delivering a flexible framework for a safe, secure and successful drones industry.