Brits now need to take a test to fly a drone — or face a £1,000 fine

Key Points
  • The mandatory scheme requires owners and operators of drones weighing more than 250 grams to register them. 
  • Concerns have been raised about how the use of drones could impact the safety of planes and helicopters.
Richard Newstead | Moment | Getty Images

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a national drone registration program Tuesday.

The scheme, which is mandatory, requires owners and operators of drones weighing more than 250 grams to register them for £9 ($11.60). Drones must be labeled with an operator ID, while an online learning course and test must be completed too. The requirement also covers users of model aircraft.

If registration is not carried out by November 30, then drone users could be penalized with a fine of as much as £1,000 ($1,289).

As well as the registration program, the CAA has also launched a "Drones Reunited" platform which will seek to return lost drones to their owners. Access to this is free when users sign up to the registration program.

The launch of the drone registration program by the CAA follows a decision by the U.K. government to create one.

There are some exemptions to the scheme. Current members of ARPAS-UK, the British Model Flying Association, the Large Model Association, FPV U.K. and the Scottish Aeromodellers' Association, for example, do not need to register with the CAA's program. These associations will, with prior permission, collect their members' registration fees and provide the CAA with their data.

The introduction of the CAA's registration scheme was welcomed by the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA).

"We have been calling for drone registration for some time now as we believe that in the same way that other vehicles — be it those in the air or on the ground — are registered, so should drones," Rob Hunter, BALPA's head of flight safety, said in a statement.

"Drones bring huge potential commercial and leisure benefits, but ensuring they're integrated into the skies safely is a key concern for BALPA," Harper added. "Following on from earlier improvements to restrictions around airports, this is another measure to encourage responsible drone operation, which is desperately needed to ensure a collision between an aircraft and a drone is avoided." 

In recent years, concerns have been raised about how the use of drones could impact the safety of planes and helicopters.

In December 2018, reports of drone sightings near Gatwick Airport resulted in hundreds of flights being grounded, causing delays, cancelations and several days of chaos for thousands of passengers. In January 2019, reports of drones near Heathrow Airport also caused disruption, albeit not as severe as that experienced at Gatwick.

Under new legislation it is now illegal for drones to be flown "within 5km of an airport." Users of drones are only allowed to fly their aircraft in restricted zones if they have permission from the airport or air traffic control.

While drones and unmanned aircraft have undoubtedly faced negative publicity in recent years, they have also been deployed in interesting and useful ways.

In September, it was announced that autonomous drone technology had been used to deliver diabetes medication to a location off the west coast of Ireland.

In Scotland, a consortium is developing remotely piloted aircraft systems that use artificial intelligence to find vulnerable and missing people, with trials of the technology already taking place.