The UK's airspace regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), told BBC Newsnight that large unmanned drones could be flying in British skies by 2020.
As with most new ideas, feelings are already running high with campaigns to make US Towns and Cities 'drone free' and people voicing their fears over safety - both in respect of loads carried and also drones colliding with aircraft and/or falling out of the sky.
At the moment, the FAA does not allow drones to be used commercially such as for taking aerial photographs at all so this is coming as a bit of a shock to it. Here in the UK we are in a better position. The CAA has recognised that the UAV / Drone field is growing and branching out from the amateur Radio Controlled hobbyist.
Since 2010, anyone wishing to operate a flying object that 'acquires data' (read: takes photographs) needs to obtain a Permission from the CAA, renewable annually. This goes for Drones, kites, blimps, modified RC Helicopters and so on. In praise of the CAA, although it seems to have been initially caught on the hop by the proliferation of this market, it has come up with a set of regulations that are sensible and proportionate to the size of craft and also reasonable in the conditions of use. I have been operating within them for three years and have found the CAA very helpful where interaction is needed and sensibly hands-off where not, leaving me to Risk Assess a shoot on the day. In Canada, for instance each shoot requires submission of a bundle of paperwork for approval days / weeks beforehand which, to me sounds pretty impractical.
To that end I have no doubt that the CAA will come up with a working regulatory environment. It has already stated that anything over 20Kg must be fitted with a 'sense and avoid' mechanism and that it would have to be approved for use in UK airspace in the same way as commercial aircraft.
PrivacyDoes anyone realistically think that spying is not going on already with affordable high zoom cameras and miniature cameras that can be concealed in a space the size of a cigarette packet. A drone is not opening up a new can of worms it is just another platform that could be used for an existing problem.
SafetyYes, Drones are going to fall out of the sky (they do already), yes they are going to get used inappropriately by someone that has bought one off eBay. Yes, there will be spying on neighbours. We will never get rid of the unlicenced and black market users, in the same way that there are car drivers driving around with no licence and insurance, but by putting a licencing framework in place beforehand and managing it properly the UK can build up a great Drone industry and perhaps lead the world in this burgeoning technology whilst the FAA is still trying to fight it's walled garden.
Do you think this is a step too far? Do you have privacy concerns?
Do you shrug your shoulders and bundle it within the CCTVs and Google Streetview, thinking that we cannot stop it and/or anything that makes the country safer has to be a good thing?
Let me know.
Drone in Newsnight Studio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19436049
BBC Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19397816
FAA Forecast: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/apl/aviation_forecasts/aerospace_forecasts/2012-2032/media/Unmanned%20Aircraft%20Systems.pdf