20 November, 2012

Military use of Drones ~ Concern in Parliament ~ Model aircraft in the UK

 Update 2:  Revealed: who can fly drones in UK airspace?  The Guardian 25th January 2013

Update 1:   Debate in Parliament 11th December

It is now almost 3 years since this blog first posted about the military use of drones.  Please see:

16th February 2010   -  Drones - is their use breaching international law?

18th April 2010  -  The US has defended the use of "drones"

17th December 2010  -  Drones - their legality in international law

11th June 2012   -  Killing the "bad" guys: the USA and drones

The UK Parliament - or, at least, some members of it - have become concerned at the use of drones to "take out" targets.  The Defence Select Committee is to conduct an examination into how the UK uses lethal force  - 20th November 2012 Defence Management.


Also, there is an All Parliamentary Group on Drones - see Early Day Motion 661 of 31st October 2012.  The setting up of this group is discussed at Bureau of Investigative Journalism   (18th October 2012).

For further reading see - Drone Wars UK looks at the article in The Times 20th November 2012

In October 2012, the Chief Constable of Hampshire backed the use of drones for Police surveillance operations - BBC 2nd October 2012.


: Model aircraft in the UK :
(Some of the law)


Interestingly, model helicopters and aeroplanes are now on sale and some are fitted with cameras.  The operation of small aircraft (as defined in legislation) is subject to various legal requirements.  The following is not intended to be a comprehensive look at the law.

Trespass by aircraft:

 In the case Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews and General Ltd [1978] 1 QB 479 it was held that property owners do not have unqualified rights over the airspace above their land.  Griffith J stated: "I can find no support in authority for the view that a landowner's rights in the air space above his property extend to an unlimited height." The case established that the rights of a land owner over his land extend only to a height necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of his land.  It would seem reasonably clear from this that flying such a model over neighbouring property might well amount to trespass to land if the flying is at low height.

Small aircraft:

"Small aircraft" are defined by the Air Navigation Order 2009 as  - "any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight"


Endangering safety of persons or property:

The Air Navigation Order 2009 Article 138:  A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.

Small unmanned aircraft:


Small unmanned aircraft are subject to Articles 166 and 167:

166(1) A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.

(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.

(3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft:

(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained;

(b) within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained; or

(c) at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.

(5) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.

Small unmanned surveillance aircraft

 167 (1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.

(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are:

(a) over or within 150 metres of any congested area;

(b) over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;

(c) within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft; or

(d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.

(4) Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.

(5) In this article 'a small unmanned surveillance aircraft' means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.
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