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Ministers consider technology to restrict civilian drone flights

Published 10/03/2016

A British Airways flight is believed to have been hit by a drone while landing at Heathrow
A British Airways flight is believed to have been hit by a drone while landing at Heathrow

Technology to restrict where civilian drones can fly is being considered by ministers amid growing concerns about near-misses involving passenger jets.

The Government is already looking at the possibility of introducing a drone registration scheme in the UK, similar to the ones already in place in Ireland and the US.

And now the Department for Transport has confirmed it is talking to manufacturers about introducing so-called geo-fencing technology in their drones.

Geo-fencing creates a virtual wall which would prevent a drone from flying into "sensitive" airspace - like that around airports.

Such technology is already fitted in some devices but there have been calls for it to be made mandatory in all drones flown for leisure.

Shadow transport minister Richard Burden asked in a written parliamentary question if ministers will consider imposing a mandatory geo-fencing requirement on the industry.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill responded: "The UK Government and the Civil Aviation Authority are talking to manufacturers about implementing geo-fencing technology on their drone systems.

"There are a number of drones already sold in the UK with this technology installed.

"My department is talking to a range of stakeholders, including airports, about potential solutions for restricting drone operations around airports and other key infrastructure.

"We expect to have some results from this work by the end of the summer."

Mr Goodwill said in a response to another parliamentary question on the same subject that ministers are "assessing the potential for solutions that could restrict drone operations around sensitive locations and key infrastructure".

The issue was raised by Mr Burden at transport questions in the Commons as he said that 23 near-misses between aircraft and drones were recorded in a six month period last year, with 12 deemed to have involved a serious risk of collision.

Mr Burden said that there have long been calls for tests to be done to see what would happen in such a collision and that a Government working group looking at the drone safety issue has been in operation since 2013.

"Why is it only this summer that ministers are going to say anything?" he asked.

"Shouldn't we know by now what tests have already been done, what regulatory and other options are being considered and when ministers expect any agreed option to be put into practice?"

Mr Goodwill replied that the Government takes the issue "very seriously indeed" and that there are already "very severe penalties" in place for people who fly drones into areas they should not.

He said the Government is "considering what best action to take" to further address the problem.

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