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Man Arrested for Flying Drone off Severn Bridge, Brings Traffic to a Stop | Legal Parameters of Flying a Drone in the U.K.

BY Isabella Lee
3 January 2019

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, police closed the M48 Severn Bridge when a man was spotted climbing the bridge tower and flying a drone off it.

The bridge passes over River Severn and serves as a major motor crossing between Wales and England. The bridge closure brought traffic to a halt in both directions and lasted for about 30 minutes.

Severn Bridge

A force spokesman said: “Officers attended the M48 Severn Bridge at 8.10am [Monday] morning after concerns were raised for a man who appeared to have climbed one of the towers and was flying a drone off it.”

The man, now identified as Alexandru Scutaru, was cooperative with the police and came down from the tower voluntarily. He was arrested on account of causing a public nuisance.

The bridge originally opened in 1966. A second crossing–known as the Prince of Wales Bridge– was added in 1996. The two bridges facilitate 25 million journeys across River Severn a year.

Consequences For Flying a Drone Illegally in the United Kingdom

Alexandru Scutaru, 30, of Northampton, was charged with causing a public nuisance. He was released on police bail with conditions that he not go to either Severn crossing pending a court appearance.

Scutaru is due to appear at Bristol Magistrates’ court in February.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) administers the rules for flying a drone in the U.K.; however, they are not responsible for handling violations. Instead, the public is encouraged to report any concerns about drones being used in their area to their local police.

The CAA has agreed with the police, in a signed Memorandum of Understanding that the Police will take the lead in dealing with drone misuse incidents, particularly at public events, that may contravene aviation safety legislation or other relevant criminal legislation. The CAA explains that this is because the police often have greater resources, response times and powers of investigation than the CAA.

Based on the recent events at Severn Bridge and past drone-related incidents, it appears the U.K’s. police officers are serious about enforcing drone laws.

The incident on Severn Bridge occurred just 11 days after two arrests were made in connection with the closure of Gatwick Airport—the U.K.’s second largest airport—after authorities spotted two rogue drones flying nearby.

Another example of a past arrest made by police in the U.K. on account of drone misuse is the arrest of a man who used a drone to deliver drugs to a prison in 2016. Other incidents, such as a drone that crashed into train and a drone flight over a sporting arena resulted in heavy fines to the operators.

Drone Laws in the United Kingdom

The rules for flying a drone in the U.K. are established by the Civil Aviation Authority of the U.K. (CAA).

The CAA has established regulations to help drone operators fly responsibly and safely. Scutaru, who flew his drone off of the 445 ft tower of Severn Bridge was likely in violation of these regulations from the CAA:

(1) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, unless the permission of the CAA has been obtained. The height limitation does not automatically apply to heights/distances from tall buildings or other structures: in such cases, an additional permission from the CAA will be required, which will invariably also require permission to operate within a congested area.

(2) The SUA operator must not fly a drone within 492 feet of any congested area or within 164 feet of any person, property, vessel, vehicle, or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft. A congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.’

These are just two of many regulations drone operators must be aware of when flying in the U.K. There are additional restrictions on drones equipped with a camera and drones used for commercial purposes.

For a more complete list of rules, visit this guide to Drone Laws in the United Kingdom.

What do you think of the CAA passing the responsibility of enforcing drone laws on to the police? How might local police prepare to respond to threats caused by rogue drones? Share your thoughts in this thread on our community forum.

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