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The Stack Archive

UK and NASA to manage low-flying drone traffic

Wed 16 Sep 2015

Drones flying around building

The UK government is partnering with NASA to establish drone tracking systems to ensure all hobbyist and commercial drones flying below 500 feet operate safely within shared airspace.

The collaboration was announced at the House of Lords this week by the Under Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Ahmad Tariq. “The Government are in early discussions with NASA about the drone traffic management system […] It is hoped that those discussions will lead to a UK involvement in the development of that system and the participation of UK industry in future trials to test the robustness of the technology,” he said.

The UK/NASA system follows reports that tech giants, including Google and Amazon, are joining with the space agency to develop drone control systems. The proposed system involves connecting drones to a cloud-based network, which would communicate real-time location and navigation information, as well as provide constant surveillance. Details have not yet been confirmed as to whether the cloud deployment will run publicly or privately.

The House of Lords discussion unfolded to cover the privacy issues at stake with drone use. “It is a complicated legal minefield. I do not know what one does if one finds a drone hovering a few feet above the ground in one’s garden, contrary to the CAA rules. Is it legal or illegal to knock it down or disable it? How does one know who owns it or who is flying the machine?”

Following a close shave between a drone and a passenger plane landing at London Heathrow last year, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was prompted to create the ‘Dronecode’ safety guidelines. The group also introduced ‘Drone Safety Awareness Day’ and launched a website dedicated to drone safety.

A London court this week became the first in the UK to hand out drone-related charges for illegal flight in congested areas. A 42-year-old man was fined £1,800 for flying his video recording drone above football stadia and landmarks, and is now barred from owning and flying drones, or helping drone enthusiasts for the next two years.

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