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UK drone owners may have to pass a test before they can fly them

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Being a drone owner could soon become a more complicated affair in the UK, with ministers proposing (opens in new tab) strict new rules that include taking a safety test. 

The government has estimated that the drone industry could be worth a massive £127 billion by 2025, but they think this potential will only be achieved if steps are taken to educate the public on safe use and make them more comfortable with the technology. 

Drones have grown in popularity significantly over the past few years as off-the-shelf models have become cheaply available on the high street, and while they might look dinky they have the potential to do serious damage. 

Damage control

There are already regulations surrounding their use, but an increasing number of near misses with passenger jets have caused enough concern that ministers believe the rules should be made clearer to avoid a major air incident.

Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said that though the majority of drone users are careful and responsible, “some operators are not aware of the rules or choose to break them putting public safety, privacy and security at risk”. These will be the people who perplexingly think it’s a sound decision to fly drones near airfields, we imagine. 

The Civil Aviation Authority's current regulations state that drones have to be kept in their pilot’s line of sight and flown no higher than 120 meters. They also have separate rules for drones with cameras (so it’s probably a good idea to establish whether or not yours has one) which forbid flying within 50 meters of buildings, people, or over large crowds. 

The new plans, though, may make owning a drone more hassle than it’s worth. Drones heavier than 250 grams will need to be registered with the CAA, and users would have to take a safety test similar to the Driving Theory test. That's a lot of effort to occasionally fly something in the park when the weather permits – which is, in the UK, probably not all that often. 

Ministers are also proposing an increase in fines and the introduction of criminal liability for those who fly their drones in no-fly zones.

In the meantime, if you’re already a drone owner you can make yourself more familiar with the rules surrounding its use by visiting this guide (opens in new tab)

  • If you don't have a drone and you'd like one, these are the best drones around.

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.