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New drone owners urged to read rules before flying gadgets after unwrapping

New drone owners have been warned about the risk 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 they took them for their first spin.

Those caught flying drones dangerously face an unlimited fine and up to five years' imprisonment.

Last week the Government announced plans to introduce a series of measures to crack down on reckless drone users following a string of near-misses with aircraft in recent months.

In November the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a new 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".

Mr Landells, who has previously warned that a drone hitting an airliner could result in an uncontrolled 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 or within 150ft of people or property.

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

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry, 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 last 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 a passenger jet on August 4.

The Airbus A320's first officer shouted "look!" as the device passed next to the right wing at around 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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