The UK Government is considering a child drone ban. This ban will stop children from acting as a drone operator for drones over 250 g.
The child drone ban is part of a new proposal from the Department for Transport which could be incorporated into the upcoming Drone Bill.
The Department for Transport has released a consultation document on introducing extra powers to prevent the misuse of drones today.
The consultation covers:
- the minimum age requirement for operators for small unmanned aircraft;
- whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient;
- a proposal to mandate and regulate a Flight Information and Notification System (FINS) or just regulate the FINS;
- the powers required by enforcement bodies in order to properly police drone use and penalise incorrect use, including the possible use of fixed penalty notices;
- counter drone technology system proposals.
The consultation closes at 11:45pm on 17 September 2018. I will take a closer look at the details in due time and post an update with my thoughts. The consultation document is 97 pages long and is accompanied by a 26-page impact assessment. So may take a few days to read and days to read and digest. I urge anyone with an interest in drones to submit a response.
Child Drone Ban
The proposed ban is intended to alleviate some of the safety and privacy fears.
The ban would stop children (under eighteen) from being drone operators (Small Unmanned Aircraft/SUA operators), not drone pilots (remote pilots). Small unmanned aircraft are those under 20 kg.
So, what’s the difference? In a recent amendment to the Air Navigation Order, SUA Operator and Remote Pilot have been defined as:
SUA Operator – The person who has the management of the small unmanned aircraft.
Remote Pilot – The individual who operates the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft by manual use of the controls, or when the small unmanned aircraft is flying automatically, monitors its course and is able to intervene and change its course by operating its flight controls.
So, children can still fly drones under 20 kg, just not manage them.
Management would include such things as registering drones over 250 g (as per the changes coming into force this year) and ensuring that a drone is not flown where it shouldn’t be. I will need to give the consultation document a good read for the details.
I think that this unnecessary complexity (much like the most of the way of gaining drone permissions from the Civil Aviation Authority). Complexities which could be solved with a well thought out drone licencing scheme.
A drone licence scheme would replace the current system of issuing permission for commercial operation, registration and proficiency tests. Perhaps, something akin to how drivers licences are in the UK.
What Will This Mean for Children?
All in all, I think that a minimum age is a reasonable step to take in the regulation of drones.
Currently, it looks like the minimum age for flying drones over 250 g will be eighteen. Without, some complex arrangements in place with an operator.
We keep seeing the 250 g limit cropping up in regulation. Drones under 250 g are considered to pose little risk to Here it is in the UK, the US and the EU. And there is some research to back that limit up. So, it is a reasonable step to make based on the information we have available to us.
Personally, I think eighteen is too high. A seventeen-year-old can hold a full UK drivers licence. Also, at fourteen a trainee pilot can begin to log hours towards a pilots licence.
A staggered approach may be best. For example, from the age of 14 to 16 allow them to use drones up to 7 kg. Then from the ages of 16 to 18 up to 20 kg. And from 18 allow them to use heavier drones and more experimental designs.
This will allow people to gain more competence with heavier drones as they get older. As well as giving them more responsibility and accountability as they mature. They could also be coupled with a flight and a knowledge test to ensure that they have basic competencies.
Drone & STEM Education
The first concern that popped into my head when I hear about the child drone ban was: will this hamper education? Both when trianing new drone pilots and for STEM subjects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
However, after a little thought, it shouldn’t.
Drones are an excellent tool for STEM education.
Drones offer interesting opportunities for teaching about physics, coding, electronics, data and more. This opportunity isn’t lost on the big companies too, Parrot has an educational package for children.
There are also plenty of drones under 250 g. Lighter drones are can be flown in just the same way as their heavier counterparts. And contain all the basic components. So the child drone ban should not pose much of a risk to training young drone pilots or STEM education.