PEOPLE who were given a drone for Christmas have been warned they could face prosecution for flying them dangerously.
The gadgets have been one of this year’s must-have gifts, prompting the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to highlight strict rules that recreational users must follow after they were involved in a number of incidents and near-misses.
Fears that unmanned aircraft could pose a danger were heightened earlier this month after investigators revealed a drone came within 20ft of a passenger plane as it was about to land at Heathrow airport.
Regulations in force include a ban on flying remote-controlled devices over congested areas or within 50 metres (164ft) of people or buildings without official permission and breaches can result in the operator being taken to court and fined up to £5,000.
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The CAA said anyone flying drones illegally can be prosecuted and its officials are working closely with police and other agencies on the issue.
Gerry Corbett, the organisation’s unmanned aircraft specialist, said: “We know that unmanned aircraft of various shapes and sizes have been popular Christmas presents this year.
“The technology has improved markedly over the last year or so, while individual products, particularly those for the recreational market, have become much more affordable.
“However, people using multi-rotor devices, such as quadcopters, for fun have to understand that they are subject to rules and cannot be used indiscriminately.
“Unmanned aerial technology is still in its infancy and offers huge recreational and commercial potential. But it is vital that users understand the safety rules, so the industry can develop safely and profitably.”
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said it had recently received reports of several examples of drones being flown within yards of planes as they came in to land. In May, a drone came close to colliding with a passenger plane as it was preparing to land at Southend airport in Essex.
Balpa’s Steve Landells said: “We want people to enjoy them, but it is really important that they know the rules – some of the drones unwrapped on Christmas Day can reach heights of more than 2,000 feet.”
The CAA has successfully prosecuted two cases relating to unmanned aircraft this year.
In April, a man was fined £800 for flying a drone through restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine base in what was thought to be the first such prosecution anywhere in the world.
The following month, a man was fined after he flew a quadcopter over Alton Towers in November last year.
Retailers and manufacturers have reported strong interest in drones this year. Oliver Meakin, managing director of Maplin Direct, said: “Drones have been the ‘must-have’ gift this Christmas. We’ve seen a huge spike in the number of customers buying them compared to last year, and in the run-up to Christmas.”
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