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UK government launches UAV issue consultation period

The UK government has launched a consultation period on how unmanned air vehicles are used, calling for responses to a number of proposals surrounding their use in the nation.

Released on 21 December, the government paper highlights a number of issues and proposes measures to deal with them. It is asking for feedback to be submitted by 15 March on which options are preferable.

“In comparison with other countries, the UK’s risk-based and strong safety approach to aviation regulation and drones is viewed favourably,” the paper says. “This is an advantage the government is seeking to retain, whilst ensuring regulation is kept fit for purpose in addressing challenges and harnessing benefits.”

The government is calling for evidence and responses to its proposals based on three themes: reflecting a first review of policy and regulation to assess its effectiveness in stimulating UAV innovation; ensuring safety and operation within the law; and laying the foundations for a developed UAV market.

“The government is seeking input on the combination of measures required, the design and impact of each measure itself, as well as evidence to inform the future direction of other policy areas,” it says.

The main areas being assessed are: UAV test site facilities in the UK; the licensing and training required by operators; the insurance required to operate; increasing operators’ awareness of the law; improving deterrents; enforcing flying restrictions and no-go zones; registration of UAVs; electronic identification of UAVs; and traffic management.

The document includes proposals such as increasing fines imposed when UAVs are misoperated, simplifying the rules surrounding their use, and enforcing new standards and qualifications.

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Amazon Prime Air

The paper is part of the UK’s wider strategy to encourage the safe introduction of UAVs, and to ensure that businesses can benefit from their use while still upholding safety, while working to ensure that the use of such systems does not upset the general public.

A public dialogue has been ongoing in the UK over the past year, the findings of which – also released on 21 December – suggest that more discussion and communication with the public is necessary, in order to clarify what UAVs are being used for. It also found that UAV use in the UK is already growing, so engagement with the public is “behind the curve” and needs to catch up.

The UK has one of the most progressive attitudes towards the use of UAVs, with regulations allowing for the commercial use of systems within guidelines. A number of training schools have also been established across the nation to train operators with the backing of the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Notably, online retailer Amazon carried out the first flight demonstration of its Prime Air UAV delivery model in Cambridgeshire on 7 December, with a parcel delivered within 13min of an order being placed.

Amazon is using the more lenient airspace regulations that the UK offers to test its delivery UAVs, as those in its native USA were more restrictive before Washington's release of a new small-UAV policy in June 2016.

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