New drone owners are being warned about the dangers of flying the devices as soon as they unwrap them this Christmas after the chaos at Gatwick Airport.
Police and aviation authorities urged users to read up on strict rules about the remote-controlled gadgets before taking them for their first spin.
Those caught flouting height and airport restrictions face a maximum fine of £2,500 and up to five years’ imprisonment.
The new law, which came into effect in July, restricts all drones from flying above 400 feet and within one kilometre of airport boundaries.
Around 1,000 Gatwick flights were cancelled or diverted across three days last week after drones were spotted inside the airport perimeter.
The crisis at the UK’s second busiest airport ruined the pre-Christmas travel plans of tens of thousands of people.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures obtained by the Press Association show there were 120 near misses between drones and aircraft reported in the year to December 4, up 29% on the total of 93 in the whole of 2017.
There were just six incidents recorded in 2014.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for criminal misuse of drones Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “Before anyone uses a drone it is vital that they make themselves aware of their responsibilities and the rules to make sure these devices are operated in a safe and responsible way.
“Do not take this lightly, if you break any of these and act irresponsibly you could face criminal charges.
“Police officers will use all available powers to investigate reports of drones being misused and seek the appropriate penalty.”
From November 30 next year owners of drones weighing at least 250 grams will be required to register with the CAA and take an online safety test.
In the summer the Government consulted on a series of other measures to crackdown on misuse, including giving police the power to issue on the spot fines of up to £300 and the ability to seize drones being used irresponsibly.
The Department for Transport is also considering using new technology to protect public events, critical national infrastructure and prisons from drone disruption.
The CAA’s code of conduct for drones, named the Drone Code, states that the gadgets must not be flown above 400 feet or within 150 feet of people or property.
Drones must also be kept at least 500 feet away from crowds and built-up areas, and must not fly over those locations at any height.