U.K. tightens drone regulations, revises flight restriction zones

This week, the United Kingdom government published an amendment to the U.K. Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO), making it illegal as of Mar. 13 to fly small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at any time within flight restriction zones (FRZs) around “protected aerodromes” – commercial airports, military airfields and general aviation airports – unless given permission from air traffic control at the airport or, if traffic control is not operational, from the airport itself.

The move expands the earlier restricted zone of 1 kilometer to instead cover an airfield’s existing FRZ. According to dronesafe.uk, an informational site developed by U.K. government agencies, the FRZs have radii of “either two or two and a half nautical miles and then five kilometers by one kilometer … starting from the point known as the ‘threshold’ at the end of each of the airfield’s runways.” Zones also cover the airspace above airfields to a height of 2,000 feet.

The change in legislation follows the series of incidents involving drones flying dangerously close to runways and impacting flights at London Gatwick Airport’s (LGW’s) in December, as reported by our sister publication, Air Cargo World. LGW is a passenger-focused airport, but should a similar incident occur at a cargo hub, it could cost millions of dollars in airfreight delays that would indirectly impact operations throughout supply chains.

The 2019 amendment also makes changes to some aspects of previous amendments issued in May of 2018. The 2019 amendment removes the “7kg differentiation” between small unmanned aircraft with regards to the type of airspace that can be flown by certain aircraft outlined in the 2018 amendment and replaces it with a single limitation based on the revised FRZs. The 2018 requirement that U.K. drone owners register their UAS devices with the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) and take an online safety test still applies and comes into effect Nov. 30, 2019.

While the U.K. is tightening regulations on drone use, other countries, like the United States, seem to be moving to loosen restrictions. On Feb. 12, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a proposed rulemaking to allow for more flexibility in UAS operations, which would also help to integrate UAS into the U.S. national airspace system.

At present, commercial UAS operators are required to obtain certification from the CAA prior operation. The new amendment suggests the U.K. may have a conservative stance regarding the integration of UAS into its national airspace moving forward, but it is unclear how this will ultimately influence the application of UAS technologies to air cargo operations.