Representatives from the UK Model Flying Associations met with the Aviation Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton at the Department for Transport yesterday (Tuesday 5th June 2019).
Whilst the meeting provided a good opportunity for both sides to clarify their position and understand each other’s priorities, there is little in the way of good news to report to our members.
It was clear that the government sees the public order and security risk posed by unmanned aircraft as very serious, which is influencing their stance, especially on operator registration. We were informed that the details of how this approach will be applied by the police and the additional legal responsibilities placed on unmanned aircraft operators will be clarified in the Drones Bill which is expected to be published soon.
We were told that the government has the aim of introducing rules now that will enable all airspace users, manned and unmanned, to coexist in the future without having to rewrite the rules in the near future to account for new technology or the forecast increase in low altitude traffic. Model aircraft flyers will be users of this airspace, so the rules will apply to us.
As such, the Minister insists that all those operating unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) will be treated in the same way and that a registration fee will be due from everyone along with the requirement to demonstrate competence. The Minister strongly believed that an ‘insignificant’ fee and mandatory test would not be barriers to participation.
Provisions within the EU regulations for model flying conducted within the framework of Associations (to apply targeted regulations which specifically allow model flying to continue as it does today) were robustly set aside as the Government is only concerned with UK law for now.
Similarly, previously published UK Government policy has also been set aside, in particular the 2017 Government Strategy (Unlocking The UK’s Hi-Tech Economy) which stated that the Government would “…work with model aircraft flying clubs to examine ways in which it may be possible to exempt members of model aircraft flying clubs with adequate safety cultures and practices from certain elements of registration and other educational requirements….”.
Whilst the Baroness was very clear that model flyers are not a special case, we were invited to submit our proposals for a pragmatic solution to the DfT for their consideration (albeit within some exceptionally inflexible constraints). Our proposals will be largely as communicated previously and we will submit them in due course.
We will continue to engage constructively with DfT and the CAA on this issue, as they have been clear they want to keep the channels of communication open.