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​UK Pilots May Soon Need to Register Their Drones

A new report puts forward the idea of an online drone database to keep track of every drone.
​Image: ​Lee/Flickr

A new report penned by a committee of the UK's House of Lords sets out to address concerns over commercial and hobbyist drone use and "make Europe a global leader in the RPAS [Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems] industry."

Among their recommendations: registering every drone in an online database.

​In their report, the House of Lords EU Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee wrote that it had already recommended that commercial drone pilots log details of their planned flights in an online database. Now they are considering requiring hobbyists to do the same.

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"We heard compelling arguments as to why the leisure use of RPAS presents risks to the general public and other airspace users," the report explains. "Therefore, in the long term, we foresee the need for a system which can track and trace all RPAS, especially those flying below 500ft, irrespective of whether they are flown by commercial or leisure pilots."

Read: ​All the Reasons Your Toy Drone Is a Threat to British Security​

Part of the reason for that is to better monitor airspace traffic, and it could also address law enforcement concerns over identifying the owner of a drone if there's a problem.

The report suggests the general public could access this online database online or through an app.

Some parties who gave evidence for the report suggested other technologies could help track drone movements: The British Model Flying Association put forward the idea of an ID chip installed in leisure drones containing the owner's details.

"It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back."

Other conclusions of the report recommend increased use of "geo-fencing," which uses a drone's GPS to stop it going in prohibited zones, as programmed by the manufacturer. This could be used around particularly sensitive areas like airports.

The point of the report is not to restrict drone usage—quite the opposite, the committee wants to see many more drones in the UK, estimating that drones could bring 150,000 jobs in Europe by 2050.

It's a delicate balance: too many restrictions could quell the industry, while too few could result in safety breaches and a lack of public support resulting in the same effect. "It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back," Chairman of the Committee Baroness O'Cathain​ said in a statement.

There are already regulations on flying drones in the UK, ​set out by the Civil Aviation Authority. But the report recommended greater police involvement in enforcing these, owing to the CAA's limited resources and authority.

"Due to the increasing scope for RPAS-related offences and the limited resources of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, we support greater police involvement in enforcing existing laws with regard to the misuse of RPAS," the authors wrote. These existing laws might not just include flight regulations, but also things like public order and harassment.

These rules are just proposals for now and the drone policy debate hasn't yet been as divisive or convoluted as ​in the US. The trick will be to strike the right compromise between an overregulated industry that makes innovation impossible and a total Wild West of the skies.