Explore your world
Drone complaints are increasing in the UK
Drone complaints are increasing in the UK

From Spying to Drug Smuggling: Drone Complaints on the Rise in the UK

Picture of Peter Ward
Tech Editor
Updated: 3 April 2017

As consumer drones become more affordable and more sophisticated, more will inevitably take to the skies. And, it seems, they’re already annoying a lot of people.

Data obtained by the Press Association shows that the number of incidents involving drones in the UK reported to police has increased by a factor of 12 over the past two years.

There were 3,456 complaints to police last year, compared with 283 in 2014 and 1,237 in 2015. The complaints range from using drones to scope out houses for burglary, smuggling contraband into prisons, and near-misses mid-air.

A number of complaints in the UK involved spying on neighbors. One report in Suffolk claimed a drone was being flown repeatedly over a garden where teenage girls were sunbathing.

In July 2016, a 27-year-old man was jailed for flying tobacco and a banned drug into a number of prisons using a drone. The DJI drone used had been spray painted black and had the lights covered with tape.

Drones have also become an increasing nuisance for airline pilots. A report released in March revealed two ‘Category A’ incidents – the most serious possible – reported by commercial airline pilots involved near misses with drones.

Drone rules and regulations are fairly relaxed in the UK, although the House of Lords EU Committee has called for all commercial and civilian drones to be registered. Right now, people in the UK can buy a drone and take it out flying with no restrictions, providing the drone weighs less than 20kg and is not used for commercial reasons. However, drones can’t be flown within 150 metres of a congested area or 50 metres of a person, vehicle, or structure.

Some incidents have been blown out of proportion. In early 2016, it was claimed that a drone had clipped a commercial jet that was landing at London Heathrow airport. However, it turned out the object was not a drone, and was more likely to have been a plastic bag.