Today, the UK’s Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority announced measures that will start to address drone safety concerns in its draft ‘Drone Bill’, scheduled to be published in spring 2018.
As makers of Drone Assist – the app used by tens-of-thousands of drone pilots in the UK every day, partners in the UK’s Drone Industry Action Group, members of Drone Alliance Europe and as board members of the Global UTM Association, we work tirelessly to advance the safe adoption, use and integration of drones into our skies, and have built a reputation for thought and technical leadership in the field of drone integration.
The steps UK Government have proposed are regarded as important for the continued and safe evolution of the drone industry within the United Kingdom and we will continue to work closely with stakeholders to ensure that the measures capably address the technical, political and social concerns of this emerging industry.
What do the proposals look like?
- Police officers will be given the right to order drone operators to land their vehicles; and
- Will also be able to seize drone parts to verify whether the vehicle was used to commit an offense.
- Mandatory registration for all drones over 250 grams;
- Mandatory use of accurate safety apps, such as Guardian or Drone Assist, to check airspace and other local restrictions, weather and for nearby air traffic;
- Mandatory ‘safety awareness tests’ for drone operators.
How will these changes affect the future use of drones within the United Kingdom?
We believe it’s important to promote accountability of one’s actions when flying a drone, whether commercially or for recreational purposes and to be able to achieve this, the UK needs to offer clear, concise information to drone pilots about where it is legal or illegal to fly drones for various purposes, in real-time and education about the new legislation.
This is why we are in broad support of the mandatory use of safety apps, provided that the UK Government ensures the public has a trusted mechanism by which its citizens can distinguish between officially-approved suppliers of such apps from those that are not.
Without any method of verification of authenticity, the floodgates will open, allowing a plethora of apps offering potentially poorly-verified, inaccurate or out-of-date data about where one can or cannot fly their drone, leading – in the worst cases – to the potential criminial prosecution of the person relying on bad data.
In practice, this means that UK Government should also act to ensure that:
- Only verified suppliers of data to the drone industry can publish so-called ‘safety apps’ and;
- Such suppliers must meet rigorous, new safety standards and have strict, end-to-end data integrity controls built into their platforms.
It is vitally important that any proposed legislation that mandates the use of a technical solution does so in a manner that enables open competition while ensuring that a minimum level of technical compliance is met.
At the very least, this will be impossible without any mechanism to distinguish between official and unofficial sources of information but should ideally include the definition of a new set of technical standards that safety app developers are required to meet, before earning Government’s endorsement, and the trust of the public.
At Altitude Angel, through our own apps, partner ecosystem and developer platform, we distribute millions of ‘geo-fences’ every day, worldwide. This is an important step in helping drone operators get access to data which is otherwise difficult to aggregate, interpret and thus use effectively.
Existing drone rules in the UK distinguish between commercial (certified) drone operators and non-commercial or hobbyist users of drones. Thus, any system or app that intends to distribute safety data ought to be able to combine that data with information about you to build the most accurate digital map it can.
Thus, we are in broad support of a registration initiative provided that any registration system that will be implemented shall, at least:
- Provide for education to new entrants into the drone market
- Be offered at low, or no, cost to hobbyist or non-commercial drone operators
- Provide ‘national-scale’ flight awareness services to all stakeholders, such as that implemented in the “Fly Now” feature in our safety apps which broadcasts anonymised real-time safety data according to an international industry standard.
- Be secure against cyber-attacks and have effective privacy controls in place so that only authorised personnel can access data
- Be effectively audited so that access to the registry by authorised personnel can be scrutinised
- Enable self-service operation and maintenance by drone pilots
- Provide tightly-controlled tools to support enforcement operations
- Cater for specific permissions or exemptions that may be granted to individuals, companies, classes of drone user or in specific areas
- Shall not store more information about the drone (or people and companies associated with the drone) than is currently necessary
- Offer effective self-service identity verification, to ensure the integrity and authenticity of data contained within the registry
- Distinguish between registered owners and the pilots of drones, while supporting multiple parties fulfilling each role
- Support the introduction of digital remote identification of drones
- Provide for authorised access to the registry by industry, including app developers, drone manufacturers, training companies and fleet operators
It is our opinion that:
A registry that fails to meet any of the above minimum requirements shall not meet the needs of the current drone market and much less the needs of a future one that will require deeply integrated technical foundations to support automated and beyond-line-of-sight flight.
We welcome the outline proposals while stressing the importance of further work to enable them to be truly effective. Through our work with various Government bodies and stakeholders within the UK, we shall strive to ensure that the proposals have the best chance of delivering on their intent by supporting Government with the knowledge, advice and technical resources it requires.