British drone owners may be charged annual fee under new proposals

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The UK Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) has launched a consultation on introducing a license fee of £16.50 per year to cover the costs of Britain’s new drone registration scheme with a final decision expected by the regulator in July 2019.

In 2018, the country’s government decided to mandate a drone registration and education scheme to “strengthen the accountability of drone users and their awareness of how to fly their drones safely”, a requirement that is now enshrined within UK law.

A number of other countries already have – or are developing – similar schemes and the CAA expects that it will soon become a requirement under “wider international law”. For example, new EU rules will mean each member state has to hold a national register of drone users. France has a free registration scheme, and similar schemes in the US and Ireland cost US$5 and €5 respectively.

The UK’s scheme will require all those operating drones and model aircraft (that weigh between 250 grams and 20 kilograms) in UK airspace to register by the end of November 2019 and to take an online safety test with a fine of £1000 for noncompliance.

The CAA said it had been developing the technology needed to implement the registrations scheme since summer 2018 with input from the Department of Transport (DoT) and unnamed stakeholders.

The government has provided a “significant amount of taxpayer funding” to cover costs of developing the scheme up until the beginning of October, the CAA said, but after that the cost of running the scheme will be “borne by those who use it under the user pays principle”.

This is because the CAA as a statutory body is required to recover its costs from the entities it regulates. The agency uses the same funding model for its other regulatory functions, including regulation of pilots, engineers, general aviation, airlines and airports.

The charge covers IT hosting and security costs; CAA personnel and helpdesk; identity verification; a national education and awareness campaign; and costs of further upgrades to the initial drone registration service. The amount is based on an assumption of 170,000 registrations over the initial 18 month period.

The CAA said it would review the drone charge after its introduction and implement any changes from April 2021, including considering whether a three year rather than annual renewal period would be more appropriate. It believes that the proposed charge “represents a balance between keeping the charge for registration low and ensuring that the scheme covers its costs”.

Respondents to the consultation are being asked to provide answers to three key questions:

1. What is your view on the CAA’s proposed charge, in terms of the level and structure of the charge?

2. Do you have alternative ideas about how the CAA could cover the costs of running the registration scheme?

3. Are the CAA’s estimated volumes appropriate for the make-up of drone operators in the UK, based on existing sources of data and your own observations?

The CAA is asking drone users, model aircraft operators, relevant industry stakeholders and members of the public to submit answers to the consultation using the CAA Drone Registration Scheme Consultation online submission form. The consultation closes on 7 June 2019.

The FVP UK association of recreational radio control drone and model aircraft pilots, which represents at least 4000 flyers, described the charge as “absolutely outrageous” and alleged that “you get absolutely nothing to show for it”.

In a call to action posted on its website, the association said it was “excessive and a barrier to participation in the hobby”, and suggested that the registration scheme would be “detrimental to the future of unmanned aircraft flying in the UK”.

It would place requirements upon operators and owners that are “are excessive and more onerous than those for manned aviation”, it claimed, alleging that the consultation reveals that “key policy decisions” had been added in the absence of publicly promised consultations or further discussions.

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