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First Conviction For Illegal Use Of An Unmanned Aircraft In The UK

April 4, 2014 - A man from Cumbria in North West England has become the first person in the UK to be successfully prosecuted for the dangerous and illegal flying of an unmanned aircraft. Robert Knowles was found to have flown the device in restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine facility, as well as allowing the device to fly too close to a vehicle bridge. 

Both offences breached the UK’s Air Navigation Order. Knowles, of Barrow-in-Furness, was found guilty on Tuesday and fined £800 at Furness and District Magistrate Court following the prosecution by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who said the case raised important safety issues concerning recreational flying of unmanned aircraft. The CAA was also awarded costs of £3,500. 

On August 25, 2013, the Court heard, an unmanned aircraft (UAV) was recovered from water near to a submarine testing facility in Barrow-in-Furness, operated by the defense company, BAE Systems. 


Analysis by the police of video footage taken from a camera fitted to the device revealed that during its flight it had skimmed over the busy Jubilee Bridge over Walney Chanel, well within the legally permitted 50 meters separation distance required. The UAV had also flown through restricted airspace around the nuclear submarine facility before it inadvertently landed in the water. 

The UAV was traced to Knowles who admitted to building the device himself and operating it on the day in question. He was charged with flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft within 50 meters of a structure (Article 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009) and flying over a nuclear installation (Regulation 3(2) of the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying)(Nuclear Installations) Regulations 2007). The CAA said the conviction sent a message to recreational users of UAVs that the devices are subject to aviation safety rules. The conviction of Robert Knowles follows the recent case of a photographer from Lancashire accepting a caution for using a UAV for commercial gain without permission. 

The photographer had sold footage of a school fire taken from his quadcopter to media organizations, even though he did not have authority from the CAA to operate the device commercially. Anyone using unmanned aircraft for ‘aerial work’ requires a ‘permission’ from the CAA to ensure safety standards are being adhered to and the operator is fully covered by indemnity insurance.



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