In the run up to Christmas last month, UK airports descended into chaos after reports of drones flying near to Gatwick Airport grounded over 1,000 flights and affected around 140,000 passengers.

The exact reason behind the incident, or who was responsible, still remains unknown, but it has propelled the issue of drone airport rules and anti-drone technology into the public eye.

After several incidents of drones flying dangerously close to passenger aircraft, some have criticised the current laws governing drone use in the UK as being too lax.

Although it is not yet clear how dangerous a collision between an aircraft and a drone would be, drone laws in the UK have been updated to prevent similar incidents from happening. But what are the new drone airport rules?

What are the drone airport rules? 

Drone laws introduced in July last year made it illegal to fly a drone higher than 400ft (122m), and within 1km from the boundary of a protected aerodrome (a location from which aircraft flight operations take place).

However, after the recent disruptions, the laws surrounding drone use near airports and airfields have been tightened, with the UK government proposing that the no-fly zone should be extended to 5km.

The plans also propose that the restriction zone should be extended to include a “rectangular extensions from the end of runways measuring 5km long by 1km wide to better protect take-off and landing path”.

There are now harsher penalties for those who break the 400ft height restriction, with possible fines of £2,500 or up to five years in prison.

Police now also have the power, with a warrant, to search the homes of those they suspect of owning a drone that has been used incorrectly.

This follows the arrest of two drone enthusiasts living near Gatwick Airport by Sussex Police on December 21. They were both released two days later without charge, and with an apology from Sussex Police.

Do you need a licence?

If the drone weighs less than 20kg then you do not currently need a license to fly it. However, the aviation laws must be followed.

From November 2019, this is changing. Drone operators will have to register any drones with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take a drone safety test online. Failing to do so could result in a fine of up to £1000. The new laws, which came into place earlier this month, apply to drones that weigh between 250g and 20kg.

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What form could future regulation take?

With the last lot of drone laws only introduced in July, it is likely that regulation could change again as the technology becomes more widespread, especially if more incidents involving drones and airports occur.

According to Trusted Reviews, in the future drone operators may be required to tell the authorities and other drone pilots when they play to fly their drones. There is also talk of raising the minimum age at which someone is allowed to own a drone to 18.

According to the CAA, the vast majority of the population supports drone regulation, with 93% of the public and 96% of drone users calling it ‘vital’ that drone flyers adhere to the CAA’s Dronecode.