Lords: Drone flights should be tracked in database

Drone committee wants government to establish online database of drone activity you can access with an app

Drone flights should be tracked in a database that's accessible via a smartphone app, according to the House of Lords (HoL).

The HoL EU Committee's report, Civilian Use of Drones in the EU, found that widespread use of drones could create 150,000 jobs by 2050, but warned of the threat to privacy they represent.

"We need to find ways to manage and keep track of drone traffic," Chairwoman Baroness O'Cathain said. "Drone flights must be traceable, effectively through an online database, which the general public could access via an app."

"We need to use technology creatively, not just to manage the skies, but to help police them as well," she added. 

The report was compiled as interest grows in drone technology, with both Amazon and Google expressing interest in using such robots to deliver goods.

More than 500 commercial operators already use drones under the Civil Aviation Authority's license. And many other use cases were discovered by the committee, including photography, surveying, cargo shipping and search and rescue.

But the committee added that the operation of drones must be provably safe before they win public approval. 

"The growth in civilian drone use has been astonishing and they are taking to the skies faster than anyone could have predicted," added Baroness O'Cathain. "But there's also a risk. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back."

As a result, it has urged the government to create a database of all drone flights, with small drones weighing less than 20kg being far less stringently regulated.

The US has dealt with the issue by proposing rules that would effectively stop Amazon from using drones for delivery, as the operator would need to be in line of sight of the robot at all times.

This provoked scorn from the online retail giant, and the HoL committee warned that too much regulation could suppress innovation. The report read: "To avoid stifling the existing [drone] industry, which consists primarily of companies using small RPAS weighing less than 20kg, we recommend that safety rules be developed and applied in proportion to the risk that RPAS flights present."

It added that EU member states "must retain a degree of flexibility" when regulating smaller drones.

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