An update on the UK regulations for model flyers

We would like to record our thanks to all those members who responded to our ‘Call to Action’ in response to CAP1775, the CAA’s consultation of the Drone Registration and Education Scheme (DRES) for which they are expecting our members to contribute a significant element of the annual £2.8 million running costs.

The response from our members was fantastic, with the CAA receiving over 11,000 responses to the consultation – the biggest ever response they have ever received to anything.  Despite the huge response to their proposals, the current indications are that the CAA & DfT have essentially dismissed it and will plough on with the scheme outlined in CAP1775 regardless.  The CAA’s response to CAP1775 is due to be published by the end of August. 

The Aviation Minister / DfT are still of the firm opinion that all model aircraft flyers (ie those over 18) should register as operators individually, and that it would not be appropriate for the Associations to register on their members' behalf or be granted any exemptions against the DRES requirements. This appears to be solely to make the job of the police easier when checking papers / identifying miscreants rather than any safety reason.

The only potential concession suggested by the CAA/allowed by the DfT would be to permit the UK Associations to upload operator registration data for those members joining/renewing by the end of January 2020.  All members would still have to pay the full fee however, and this would require the Associations to collect the fee from every member to pass on to the CAA.  Due to transaction charges, we would have to collect a little over £17 from every member in order to pass on £16.50 to the CAA.  Members joining/renewing after the end of January would have to register/pay directly on the DRES website regardless. 

In addition, all members (including juniors) will still be required to take the CAA’s Remote Pilot competency test on the DRES website and Association Achievements will not be recognised at this time.

Considering all the above factors, the situation remains unacceptable to the UK Associations.  After nine months of being slow timed/fobbed off/ignored, we feel that it is important that we now work to establish a clear position so that members know where they stand in good time for 2020 renewals.

The situation can be summarised as follows:

  1. At the present time, the UK Associations will have no direct involvement in the registration of their individual members into the DRES as operators or confirmation of their competency as remote pilots.
  2. Compliance with the requirements of the DRES will therefore be entirely a matter for individual members to decide upon.
  3. Whilst the UK Associations would obviously encourage members to participate in the DRES, we will have no direct involvement with it and cannot monitor or enforce compliance (coupled with the fact that only those members flying aircraft weighing more than 250g outdoors are required to register). Compliance will therefore be advisory rather than a condition of membership.
  4. However, it is important to note that the insurance cover provided to members covers ‘lawful and recognised activities’ and as such cover could only be assured for those operating lawfully (which includes participation in the DRES where required from the 30th November) which members should consider when deciding how to proceed.  We are still working with insurers to clarify the final position in terms of members and clubs.

One of the main reasons cited by those members indicating their intention not to comply with DRES has been their reluctance to be added to a list of ‘potential suspects’ in the event of another ‘Gatwick incident’, which is fully understandable given the disgraceful way in which the Police and media dealt with an innocent model flyer.  However, we have received assurances that the registration information will be held securely by the CAA and the level of access routinely granted to the Police will only confirm whether someone’s registration number is current.  For an individual’s full contact details to be accessed would require a written application to the CAA from the Police for a clearly defined reason.

The other main reason cited by members indicating non-compliance with the DRES is in objection to the imposition of mandatory competency tests. Many model flyers consider this to be a measure primarily introduced to deal with unlawful ‘drone’ operations, with no differentiation/recognition for the century of safe operation established by model flyers and no recognition of any existing achievements held by individuals.  The DRES website does however include comprehensive training material on what is being tested and the test is very easy, with the required pass mark being 16 out of 20 questions.  The system does highlight any incorrect answers afterwards (and tells you what the answer should have been) and you can take the test as many times as required.  The CAA will provide telephone support to anyone encountering difficulties with the system and we understand that a hard copy of the test will be mailed out on request to those without internet access.

Additional police powers to enforce the DRES, issue fixed penalty notices etc. are due to be introduced in the DfT’s Unmanned Aircraft Bill which has not yet started the parliamentary process, so may or may not be in force by the end of November.

It is regrettable that we have been placed in this deeply unsatisfactory position by a combination of the lack of imagination and intransigence of the DfT/Aviation Minister coupled with the ineffectiveness of the CAA in fighting our corner.  We had hoped that a change in Government and in particular the appointment of Grant Shapps as the new Secretary of State for Transport might help our cause, but there is little evidence yet to indicate that his strong support of model flying from the backbench has transferred to his cabinet role. 

There are still ongoing issues to be clarified with the CAA (such as our opposition to carrying external registration markings and whether control line aircraft can be excluded from the requirements) and we will provide further updates on progress in due course.

Following our most recent meeting on the 19th August, we are awaiting written advice from the CAA which we expect in the next few days.  We are also working with insurers to clarify any insurance implications.  Once in receipt of this information, we will then issue our assessment of the options available for the members of the UK model flying Associations and affiliated clubs.

We hope this clarifies the current situation.  We will continue our battle in the hope that the situation for UK model flyers can be improved, especially when the more favourable European Regulations come into effect (hopefully) in July 2020, which we believe remains the intent regardless of BREXIT.

In the meantime, please continue to make your views known to the DfT/CAA and your local MP to help us keep the fight ‘alive’.

The CAA were offered space to exhibit at the Nationals to deal with members queries directly but were unable to attend.  However, they will have a large presence at the LAA Rally at Sywell from Friday 30th August until Sunday 1st September when they will be happy to discuss all aspects of their work.

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