Drone registration must take off soon

23 October 2017

. Indeed, the fact that this is only the latest of a number of 'near misses' (even though a collision is yet actually to happen – at least not yet in the UK – there was an actual hit in Canada reported yesterday, on a commercial aircraft carrying two crew and six passengers, but which managed to land without injuries) makes robust implementation of the existing registration system even more urgent. It is now a case of when, not if; so establishing a practical process for monitoring and regulating drone usage seems vital.


Just this July, it was widely reported that the UK government would be introducing a drone registration system with a number of 'safeguards' designed to promote the right kinds of behaviour – for example, a competency test for leisure users and a stipulation that members pay to be registered – presumably to encourage best practice. The plans were announced in a Department for Transport document that looks at the safe use of drones by both professionals and amateur flyers. Indeed, pressure for implementing this system has come directly from commercial pilots who are naturally concerned.

However, despite the initial fanfare, little has emerged since about the new registration system, its availability or its enforcement. Also, little is given away about the finer details such as how much each registration will cost, or whether there is one registration per person or one per drone. Meanwhile the rate of near-collisions has not slowed down, and now also with the actual hit in Canada, it is obvious that there is no less urgency around implementing and policing some form of registration system.

The excuse that this is a 'first' simply doesn't stand up, given that the US introduced a fee-based system in 2015, with 770,000 people now signed up. The registration included a $5 (£3.84) fee. The Irish government also introduced a  register in the same year, so as well as having best practice examples to turn to, it is vital the UK gets up to speed by implementing its own as soon as possible – instead of simply box checking it within a document without genuinely looking at implementation strategies. Given, however, that the heavy involvement of the UK's air traffic control system is likely required in ensuring the right level of monitoring takes place, it will be vital that they have the right manpower levels and systems capability to deal with capacity.

There is no doubt that any registration system that actually goes live (rather than one that is simply 'planned' for, as at the moment) is likely to make a positive impact on the ethics and behaviour of drone users. This is not an experimental process but rather a proven process that needs to be in place for the safety of all – as Sunday's near miss has taught us. Ensuring that there is the right level of consultation and collaboration is, as ever, important; but given that a solid basis has been established, availability and implementation now need to be the focus as a matter of urgency before there is a bad accident … and government then looks around for who to blame.

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