Model aircraft pilots angry over drone laws

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Getty Images

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Model-aircraft flyers do not want to be classed as drone pilots

People who fly model aircraft are angry that proposed drone rules could damage their much-loved hobby.

They argue they should not be classed as drone pilots.

The new laws are intended to make airspace safer amid increasing drone use.

The British Model Flying Association (BMFA) met the Aviation Minister Baroness Vere this week to discuss its concerns.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is currently consulting on proposals for a drone registration scheme that is due to become law in November. It has received 6,000 responses from BMFA members.

David Phipps, chief executive of BMFA, said the proposed rules, which would see all pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles required to register, pay for a licence and take competency tests every three years are “disproportionate” for model-aircraft flyers.

“We have established an excellent safety record that surpasses commercial aviation over a century of flying. European laws grant special recognition to model flying, saying it should be treated differently but the UK has not done this.”

He acknowledged that while “some” would regard the proposed registration fee of £16.50 as “not a lot of money”, it still represented “a barrier to entry” especially for young people getting involved in the hobby.

He added that plans for a safety test “which will be answering a few questions on the CAA’s website” were far less rigorous than his organisation’s own safety tests. He worried that many of his members would simply ignore the new rules and “go under the radar”.

The need for tighter rules around the use of unmanned aerial vehicles became apparent following reports of drone sightings at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, which caused major disruption for passengers.

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Cliff Evans

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Cliff Evans has been flying model aircraft for 50 years

Cliff Evans has been flying model aircraft since he was nine and is unhappy that his hobby has been caught up in the drone debate.

“It is becoming more and more obvious that we as aero modellers are being targeted because of the commercial value of the airspace that we occupy. I and all other modellers that I know find this offensive and unnecessary,” he told the BBC.

He said that the good relationship the BMFA has built up with the CAA over the years is currently “under great strain” because of attempts to “limit and control our hobby”.

Amazon has just been granted a permit to operate its drones in the US and plans to deliver packages to customers there “within months”.

Aviation Minister Baroness Vere said: “While the majority of people flying model aircraft do so responsibly, the registration scheme will increase accountability for all unmanned aircraft operators.

“All unmanned aircraft, whether fixed wing model aircraft or drones, have the potential to pose a safety and security threat. The proposed registration scheme and charges are in line with other hobby licensing, such as fishing.”