New legislation extending no-fly zones for drones and model aircraft around UK airports will come into force next month, the Department for Transport (DfT) has confirmed.
The DfT has teamed up with the CAA and Jessops to launch a national public awareness campaign about the rules around flying drones, and to promote responsible drone usage.
Police, meanwhile, will gain additional powers to stop and search people suspect of malicious drone misuse and access data stored on drones without a warrant.
Last December, Gatwick was forced to ground flights for more than 36 hours over a two-day period shortly before Christmas due to reports of drone activity in and around the airfield. Around 1,000 flights were affected and 140,000 passengers inconvenienced.
Heathrow, meanwhile, was forced to take similar measures in January after a drone sighting near its airfield. Similar troubles have been experienced internationally, most recently in Dubai.
The new legislation builds on efforts to restrict irresponsible drone usage, create a register of drone users and better equip police to deal with drone-related incidents.
It also precedes the government’s forthcoming Drones Bill, which will cement further police powers in respect of drone usage, and set a new legislative framework for drone operation.
Measures outlined by the DfT on Wednesday (February 20) include extending drone exclusion zones at UK airports to 5km (three miles) of runway ends, up from 1km (0.6 miles).
“The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act,” said transport secretary Chris Grayling. “We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe.
“We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.”
On the new police powers, Home Secretary Said Javid said: “Extending stop and search to include drones will help police tackle disruption like the recent misery we saw at UK airports, when travel was ruined for thousands of innocent passengers, and bring those responsible to justice.
“Police are clear that stop and search is one of the most powerful tools they have to target and disrupt crime, and I remain committed to giving them all the support they need to protect the public.”
Meanwhile, CAA policy director Tim Johnson warned drone operators they risk severe penalties – including heavy fines and imprisonment – if they flout the rules, and called for drone users to exercise responsibility, and observe relevant rules and regulations.