The UK government is proposing to expand no-fly zones near airports for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and increase police powers in response to the drone-related disruptions at London Gatwick Airport last month.

Drone activity over Gatwick caused dozens of flight cancellations Dec. 19-21, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Police described the drone flights as a “deliberate act” to disrupt airport operations.

On Jan. 8, departures from London Heathrow were briefly suspended following reports of a drone sighting.

The government was already studying the future use of UAVs in the UK, but the chaos at Gatwick has brought about a raft of proposed new restrictions and penalties for the reckless use of drones.

While UAVs are bringing benefits to industry and rescue services, “the recent disruption to Gatwick airport operations, affecting tens of thousands of passengers in the run-up to Christmas, was a stark example of why continued action is required to make sure drones are used safely and securely in the UK,” aviation minister Elizabeth Sugg said in the foreword to a consultation document on the future use of drones.

Under the new proposals, drones would be prohibited from flying within 5 km (3.1 mi.) of airport boundaries unless the operator receives permission from air traffic controllers. As of July 30, 2018, drones were banned from flying within 1 km of airports and above 400 feet, and after Nov. 30, 2019, drones must be registered and operators will be required to complete an online competency test.

The government acknowledged, however, that no-fly zones would not prevent deliberate attempts to disrupt airfield operations.

The government also proposed giving police new powers to request evidence from drone operators where there is reasonable suspicion of an offense being committed and to issue immediate fines of £100 ($127) for minor drone offenses.

The reckless use of drones is already punishable by up to five years in prison.

The government said it will also expedite anti-drone technology research.

The new proposals were welcomed by the main UK pilots’ union.

“The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has been calling for the current 1 km zone to be increased to 5 km for some time now. The recent events at Gatwick, combined with the responses to the recent public consultation, have convinced government of the need to revisit the laws and make changes,” the union said in a statement.

“We were encouraged last year when the government announced that it was introducing new laws, including the restriction zone and mandatory registration, but we were disappointed they didn’t go far enough, and could put drones in direct conflict with commercial aircraft. The government’s announcement today is a win for flight safety,” BALPA general secretary Brian Strutton said. “We also welcome extra police powers to deal with irresponsible and dangerous drone use, including the power to force drone users to land their aircraft and show their documentation. However, we would have liked to have seen plans for drone registration, due to come into force in November, accelerated.”

A parliamentary bill containing the new proposals will be introduced later this year.

Alan Dron, alandron@adepteditorial.com