New drone owners urged to read the rules before first flight

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Police and aviation authorities say anyone receiving the gadget as a Christmas present should visit dronesafe.uk website for safety advice

Drones are expected to be a popular Christmas present this year.
Drones are expected to be a popular Christmas present this year. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

New drone owners have been warned about the risks of flying the devices as soon as they unwrap them this Christmas.

Police and aviation authorities urged users to read up on strict rules about the remote-controlled gadgets before taking them for their first spin.

Those caught flying drones dangerously face an unlimited fine and up to five years in prison.

In November, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a website to publish its revised code of conduct for drone users, labelled the dronecode.

Former RAF and British Airways pilot Steve Landells, a flight safety specialist at the British Airline Pilots Association, said he expected to see an increase in drone use after Christmas and warned that “not everyone who is flying them either knows or cares about the rules”.

Landells, who has previously warned that a drone hitting an airliner could result in an uncontrollable engine failure or a smashed cockpit windscreen, added: “While we take no issue with people who fly their drones in a safe and sensible manner, some people who fly them near airports or densely populated areas are behaving dangerously.

“We’re urging anyone who receives a drone as a Christmas present to take a look at the CAA’s dronecode and be proactive in educating themselves before flying it.”

Under CAA rules, drones must not be flown above 400ft (122 metres) or within 150ft (46 metres) of people or property.

They must also be kept at least 500ft (152 metres) away from crowds and built-up areas, and must not fly over such locations at any height.

ACC Steve Barry, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for drones, urged anyone receiving one as a Christmas present to visit the dronesafe.uk website before using it.

He said: “We are keen to ensure that people who operate drones are aware of the law and follow the appropriate user guidelines. Both the police and the CAA are working closely to keep drone use within the law and will robustly prosecute any users who fly them in a way that puts others at risk.”

Jonathan Nicholson, an assistant director at the CAA, said: “Drone users have to understand that when taking to the skies they are potentially flying close to one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world. It is a complex system that brings together all manner of aircraft including passenger aeroplanes, military jets, helicopters, gliders and light aircraft.

“We want people to enjoy their new drones but use their common sense and remember that anyone operating a drone must do so responsibly.”

Over the past year, 59 cases of near-misses involving drones and aircraft have featured in UK AirproxBoard (UKAB) reports.

In one serious incident, a drone the size of a football was flown around 20 metres from an Airbus A320 passenger jet on 4 August. The first officer shouted “look!” as the device passed next to the right wing at about 11,000ft above south-east London, according to a UKAB report.

Among the proposals being consulted on are the introduction of a safety test and mandatory registration of drones. Ministers are also considering introducing tougher penalties for flying in restricted areas, such as near airports and prisons.

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