The UK’s Department for Transport has said today that an expansion of drone ‘no-fly’ zones to 5km around airport runways will come into force on March 13.
Anyone caught and convicted of flying a drone inside the restricted zones could face a fine and years in prison.
Last month the government said it would tighten restrictions on drones flights around airports, after the existing 1km limit was criticized for being inadequate — saying it believes expanded no-fly zones will help protect airports from drone misuse.
The 1km drone exclusion zone around airports, and a 400ft drone flight height restriction rule, only came into force last July. But ministers came in for sharp criticism following the Gatwick Airport drone fiasco when a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport caused a temporary shutdown of the runway and travel disruption for thousands of people right before Christmas.
Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, also briefly halted departures after further sightings of drones last month.
“The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act. We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe,” said transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement today.
“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.”
The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have announced a partnership with online retailer Jessops to help raise public awareness about the new drone rules — and encourage what they dub “responsible drone use” — as part of a national awareness campaign.
The government also said work is continuing on a new Drones Bill. Although the planned legislation is already almost a year behind schedule — and is still only slated for introduction “in due course”.
The bill will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously above 400ft or within 5km of an airport, the government said.
It added that the planned legislation will give additional new powers to the police to clamp down on those misusing drones and other small unmanned aircraft, including the power to access electronic data stored on a drone with a warrant.
Additional powers for police were trailed back in 2017 when the drone bill was first floated by the government. It re-announced its intention to beef up police powers to tackle drone misuse last month following the Gatwick fiasco.
The government added today that the Home Office is still reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones, writing that it will “consider how best to protect the full range of the UK’s critical national infrastructure — including testing and evaluating technology to counter drones”.
In related news this month, drone maker DJI announced upgrades to its geofencing systems across Europe — applying stricter and more detailed restrictions around airports and other sensitive sites after switching its mapping data provider from US based AirMap to UK based Altitude Angel.