New detection and disruption equipment to be operated by police and other emergency services are included in a government strategy to curb hostile and criminal uses of drones.
An international set of standards for manufacturers will also be developed, ensuring that safety features are incorporated into drones at the design stage. Police will have new guidance on tackling illegal drone use, and reporting will be standardised to allow ministers better to assess the problem.
Air traffic management legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech last week. It will give police more powers to stop and search people suspected of carrying or operating drones. From the end of next month, operators of drones weighing more than 250g will need to register with the Civil Aviation Authority, and all remote pilots must pass an online competency test.
Gatwick airport was brought to a standstill and forced to cancel about 1,000 flights last December when a drone was spotted in the area. Military experts were brought in and borrowed a counter-drone device developed by Chess Dynamics, a British company. The portable system has been used by the military since 2016 and models have been bought this year by big British airports. It is unclear whether the government intends to procure the same equipment for its new police-operated mobile unit.
Almost three near misses a week between drones and aircraft have been logged, raising fears that there will soon be a mid-air collision. Drones are also used to defy security at jails, carrying drugs, phones and other contraband from the outside in to prisoners.
Legitimate drone use has also grown. More than 76,000 are expected to be used commercially and in the public sector in Britain by 2030.
Writing for The Times Red Box, Brandon Lewis, the security minister, emphasises the opportunities afforded by unmanned aircraft, from capturing aerial shots of ocean life in the BBC series Blue Planet to helping fire crews to assess burning buildings. Mr Lewis writes that there although there is “no silver bullet” against drone misuse the new strategy will “protect against threats while being careful not get in the way of those working to harness this technology for good”.