UK to impose drone laws, with tech set to boost GDP by £42bn

New legislation coming into effect could force UK drone users to face flying tests, amid other rules, but the government maintains it does not want to harm the technology's positive impact on GDP.

Under the new changes being introduced, users may have to pass online safety tests and register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) if their drone weighs 250g or more.

Users who fail to adhere to the flight restrictions could face unlimited fines, up to five years in prison, or both and those that do not register with CAA could face fines of up to 1,000.

The rules should come into effect between 30 July and 30 November, according to aviation minister Baroness Sugg, who said the measures were needed to protect aircraft and their passengers.

Earlier this week, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimated that drone technology has the potential to increase UK GDP by 42 billion by 2030.

Baroness Sugg said the government was keen to not stunt the growth of the sector, but stressed that is was important to "ensure drones are used safely and responsibly".

The PwC's research estimates there will be more than 76,000 drones in use across the UK skies by 2030, with more than a third of those potentially being utilised by the public sector, in areas such as defence, health and education.

The report also estimates that 628,000 people could be working in the drone economy by 2030 in new types of jobs to develop, build, operate and regulate drones.

"The UK has the opportunity to be at the leading edge of exploiting this emerging technology, and now is the time for investments to be made in developing the use cases and trial projects needed to kickstart our drone industry," said Elaine Whyte, UK drones leader at PwC.

"In order to realise the full potential from drones, the immediate focus must be on developing society's confidence in the technology to help drive acceptance and increase adoption."

Robert Garbett, CEO of Drone Major and chairman of the BSI Committee on Drone Standards, welcomed the PwC's report but pointed out that the UK is only seeing a small fragment of what drones can do and how advances in the technology are redefining the term 'drone'.

The emergence of hybrid drone systems, which are able to operate across different environments such as surface, underwater, air & space, could impact the UK economy more than the report estimates.

"It is the emergence of such concepts and the advancement of autonomous systems across all environments that have led to the emergence of a new definition for a 'drone' incorporating 'any vehicle, ship, aircraft or hybrid system which is autonomously or remotely controlled'," he said.

"When we consider the drone industry from this perspective, the impact on the UK economy, jobs, productivity and quality of life takes on a whole new meaning and a much larger figure."

Picture: Shutterstock

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.