The “no fly zone” for drones around UK airports is set to be extended under plans announced by the government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) today.
Drones and model aircraft will not be allowed within 5km (3 miles) of an airfield perimeter when the rules come into force on 13 March.
The so-called drone “no fly zone” had previously extended to around 1km (0.6 miles).
The new boundary includes a 1km-wide area extending 5km from the end of an airport runway.
It is already against the law to fly a drone above 400 feet (121.9 metres).
Violating the rules could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years.
The CAA says those who need to fly in the restricted zone – for example, to make a survey of a building roof at a low height – will be able to apply for a permit to do so.
The authority is working with photography and video shop Jessops as part of a campaign to make drone users more aware of the new rules.
All customers who buy a drone will be taken through a “drone code of conduct” and given a leaflet explaining the new laws.
Online customers will have to read a web page detailing the same information.
Ian Savage, head of learning and development at Jessops, told Sky News: “We have the opportunity to talk to our customers before they purchase, not only about the product but also about the drone code as well and how to fly them safely.
“Along with the pleasure drones bring comes a responsibility for the user to make sure they are flying them safely and legally.”
The government is also working on a Drones Bill, which will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously within 5km of an airport.
The bill will also allow them to access, with a warrant, any electronic data stored on a drone.
It comes after three days of severe disruption at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, when repeated drone sightings above the airfield led to around 1000 flights being cancelled, affecting 140,000 passengers.
The airport says it has spent £5m on technology to prevent a repeat of such attacks.
Heathrow has confirmed it is buying similar systems.
A spokesman from the airport welcomed the government’s announcement of an extended exclusion zone, and said: “We have invested significantly over the years to enhance our capabilities to detect and deter drones at the airport, but the government has an important role to continue playing in supporting the aviation industry with the right regulations and enforcement tools to keep the UK’s skies safe as the technology evolves.”
But, say critics, an exclusion zone is unlikely to deter anyone who seriously wants to stop planes from flying, and that’s acknowledged by the CAA.
Jonathan Nicholson, its assistant director, told Sky News: “All the work we do to educate drone users is all about people who want to know the rules, want to fly safely, want to do it properly.
“If somebody actively maliciously is going out to break the law and they’re then breaking the law, that then becomes a police issue… …people can and will get prosecuted.”
It’s clear from government tender websites that stopping drones now goes far beyond just airports – a contract was awarded in January for a counter unmanned aerial vehicle to protect the Civil Nuclear Police Authority.
Another site reveals the prison and probation service is currently looking for similar protection for prison sites, calling for a system that “detects and tracks a high number of drones simultaneously”.