Explainer: Drones and the law

Drones have reportedly been involved in numerous near-misses with planes flying in and out of Gatwick Airport. Picture: Shutterstock
Drones have reportedly been involved in numerous near-misses with planes flying in and out of Gatwick Airport. Picture: Shutterstock

Laws around the use of drones are becoming increasingly tight as the devices gain in popularity and near-misses with aircraft become more frequent.

An investigation by this newspaper has found that there were 83 documented incidents involving drones and aircraft – nine of which were in Sussex – between January, 2010, and October, 2018.

READ MORE: Near-misses between drones and Gatwick Airport flights before Christmas chaos revealed

Anyone flying a small drone must always have direct visual contact with it. Breaking this law could lead to a fine of £2,500.

On July 30, 2018, it also became against the law to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary.

Anyone caught doing so could a face a £2,500 fine.

From November 30, 2019, all owners of drones weighing 250g or more will also have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority and drone pilots will have to take an online safety test.

Read more: Police search more than 25 sites searched by police after Gatwick drone chaos

Failure to comply could see people fined £1,000.

General aviation rules also apply to drone pilots.

Flying drones in a manner which is likely to endanger an aircraft could result in a five year prison sentence, as could causing an aircraft to endanger people or property.

And intentionally using a drone to commit an act of violence at an international airport could mean life imprisonment.

Read more: Gatwick Airport drone saga costs Easyjet £15m

In January, 2019, the Government announced it would be bringing forward a draft Drones Bill which could give the police powers to issue on-the-spot fines for minor drone offences.

The Government also plans to widen the restrictions around airports to about 5km.

Of course, laws could be ineffective against those who seek to cause deliberate disruption - or even danger - to flights.

So the Home Office has said it is also pushing forward with the testing and evaluation of technology to detect and combat the malicious and illegal use of drones to protect airports and other sensitive national infrastructure.