The Life at Westminster column with Sir Greg Knight MP

Parliament needs to take action regarding the safety issues of drone use.
Parliament needs to take action regarding the safety issues of drone use.

During a visit to a community group recently, someone asked me why Parliament was “always making new laws” adding “surely you lot at Westminster should have got it right by now.”

A fair point if we were living in a world where technology was standing still, but it isn’t.

For example, prior to 1990, the internet as we know it did not exist.

Consequently, none of our laws then prevailing were drafted to deal with issues arising from internet use.

Laws need to keep pace with technological advances, as well as with our behavioural changes, which bring along opportunities but also new problems too.

A good example of the need to introduce new laws is the recent development in drone technology.

These unmanned aerial vehicles are, in effect, aircraft without a human pilot aboard but with a ground-based controller and a system of communications between the two.

Compared to manned aircraft, drones were originally used for missions regarded as too dangerous for humans and originated in military usage but their deployment has rapidly expanded to commercial, scientific, agricultural and other applications involving policing, surveillance, product deliveries, aerial photography and even smuggling.

As the recent disruption at Gatwick airport showed, new laws are needed.

Many drone manufacturers are now voluntarily implementing a system known as geo-fencing around sensitive areas such as airports and prisons in the UK and it could be mandated as a requirement for all drones.

Geo-fencing uses technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.

It is already an offence to endanger aircraft and drones must not be flown near people or property.

From 30 November this year, it will also be a legal requirement for all drone operators to register and to complete an online pilot competency test.

The Government is also consulting on other measures to ensure that all aircraft use our airspace safely and securely.

Whilst we must harness the benefits that drones can bring to the UK economy, we also need to see that new regulations are introduced to ensure that safety remains paramount.

The vast majority of drone users fly drones without causing harm and adhere to the rules that are in place.

However, if a drone is used illegally or dangerously we must ensure that the police have the powers to enforce the law, and that the most up to date technology is available to detect and disrupt the drone.

Parliament thus needs to take action to both ensure safety and to harness the opportunities and benefits that drones can bring.

Finally, on a “drone” of an acoustic nature, it was inspiring to hear the news that a bagpipe player has recently raised more than £100,000 for charity.

It was less moving, however, to hear him admit that most of the money came from people who asked him to stop playing and move on!