The number of UK complaints about drones has shot up twelvefold over the past three years.
Police reports about everything from mid-air near misses to irate neighbours squabbling about flights over gardens to criminals flying drugs into prisons were collated by the Press Association newswire agency for 2014-2016.
It found that the number of complaints in 2016 – 3,456 – dwarfed the total number of drone-related complaints for 2014, a piddling 283. In 2015 1,237 complaints were made.
Regular Reg readers will be well aware of the problems with drones flying dangerously close to airliners. Such incidents dominate UK Airprox Board reports, though sceptics have asserted that flight deck crews may be mistaking plastic bags picked up by the wind for small white drones, which are among the most common descriptions given in airprox reports.
Closer to home, consumer drones are more of a social problem. For example, the PA found that someone in Suffolk complained to police that a drone operator was spying on neighbouring teenage girls sunbathing in their garden.
Although the Civil Aviation Authority has published its Dronecode, aimed at hobbyists playing about with toys, this user-friendly version of the Air Navigation Order's legal provisions is more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
"Anecdotally I've heard that burglars using drones is a big issue for police forces," Professor David H Dunn told PA. "People are using them to fly behind properties to see if the lights are on, to see what sort of French windows they have or whether there are windows open."
British proposals for tackling drone misuse potentially include mandatory registration of new devices and new criminal offences for misuse, notwithstanding that endangering flight safety – say, by flying next to airport approach paths – is already a criminal offence, as is smuggling contraband into prisons. ®