Why was this British drone pilot arrested?

Nigel Wilson was caught observing English soccer games via his drone. How should governments regulate civilian use of drone aircraft?

Peter Andrew Bosch/FILE/Miami Herald/AP
FILE PHOTO- In this photo taken on March 11, a drone piloted by Brooks Weisblat, is used to help wildlife biologists to record eagle movements at a nest it is building on a cell phone tower just north of Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus in Miami. Government agencies, businesses and private individuals are all starting to use drones with more and more frequency to perform all sorts of tasks. However, this does not reduce the headache unlawful use of them makes for regulators.

Have you ever seen the blimp on television when you’re watching a football or baseball game and think to yourself, “Hey, they must have an amazing view of the game.”

Now say you don’t have a blimp anchored outside your home, but you happen to own a personal drone equipped with a video camera. What sporting event would you fly over? Game seven of the World Series? The Super Bowl?

For Nigel Wilson of Nottingham, England, it was English Premier League soccer games, and as a result of his actions, Wilson ended up behind bars.

Wilson is scheduled to appear in Westminster Magistrates Court on April 16 to answer to 17 counts  in connection with his purported flight activity. Metropolitan Police charged Wilson with violating the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Air Navigation Order 2009, which banned operators from flying their drones in London’s eight royal parks, according to Engadget. The police report mentions Wilson flying near the Queen Victoria Memorial, which is close to one of the Queen’s favored London residences, according to the report.

The Air Navigation Order also mandates that pilots remain within 400 vertical feet and roughly 1,500 horizontal feet of the aircraft and cannot fly drones in areas with more than 1,000 people, which Wilson was also violating when he flew over some seven soccer stadiums. Soccer stadiums can hold up to 60,000.

Wilson’s actions highlight the difficulties of regulating private drone use as they become more and more prevalent. Members of the House of Lords have begun to debate the need for a national registry of all private drone owners and a requirement that drone pilots to notify the CAA when they want to fly, according to Engadget.     

The U.K. government and the European Union have debated and instituted some civilian drone policies already. According to Law360.com, European drone manufacturers own one third of the total drone market, and the European Commission estimated that civilian drones could make up to 10 percent of the aviation market in the next ten years – a market share potentially worth $22 billion.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put forth regulations to cover civilian drone use. Pilots with drones weighing under 55 pounds and who fly them away from populated areas do not need to obtain a permit from the FAA, according to the agency’s website. However, operators are prohibited from flying near sports stadiums, concerts, or any large gathering of more than 30,000 people.  

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