Comment A government database intended to store the personal details of around 150,000 drone fliers is set to cost around £4m plus to buy and £2.8m to maintain – despite a similar database costing Defra just £300k a year.
The Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) planned database of drone fliers is to comply with new EU laws and will also make it mandatory for anyone flying a drone weighing more than 250g to register with the state.
Industry talk about the cost of the database is growing: sources familiar with the matter tell us the CAA has decided to outsource the database to the Department for Transport (DfT), which owns the CAA. We are also told that DfT estimates for procuring the database, which government staffers think will cater for around 175,000 users, come in at £4.1m upfront with a further £2.8m in annual running costs.
Putting aside the idiocy of regulating children's toys with the criminal law, drone fliers and makers alike are nervous that the database will simply be used by British bureaucrats as a profit-making exercise at their expense.
As Brendan Schulman of Chinese drone manufacturer DJI tweeted, if whatever price charged for the system is simply passed on direct to drone enthusiasts along with a profit margin for the civil service, the registration scheme will fail.
This is very concerning. As I expressed to @CommonsSTC recently, a high registration cost will substantially deter compliance and cause the failure not only of registration, but Remote ID and other downstream initiatives. https://t.co/pCXlJ748Ot— Brendan Schulman (@dronelaws) June 18, 2019
A departmental spokeswoman referred us to a recent CAA consultation about the database, and quoted a paragraph from that document stating:
"Under the 'user pays' principle, and as a statutory corporation, the CAA must recover the costs from those it regulates. In putting forward this proposal, the CAA is seeking to balance the interests of users to keep charges as low as possible, whilst ensuring that the charges cover the costs of running the scheme."
The DfT did not dispute the price or cost estimates put to it by The Register. The CAA consultation reckons that if 175,000 people freely volunteer to be put on a government database, the price per head will be £16.50 per year – an optimistic hope.
Yet not so long ago, another government department managed to run a similar database while costing an order of magnitude less. Back in the 2000s the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) ran a database of 50,000 game shooters, who at the time had to register with the Post Office for a licence to shoot certain bird species. Like the CAA today has outsourced to the DfT, so the Post Office outsourced its database to Defra.
That database cost just £300,000 annually to run, as a recent Freedom of Information request revealed (PDF). Although it was scrapped in 2007, applying inflation to that £300k from 2007 brings it up to around £488,000 today.
Where does the order of magnitude increase in the cost to run a straightforward database of names, contact details and "bought licence y/n" tickboxes come from? DfT wouldn't say, though one potential answer lies in the entirely fictional figures for the size of the UK drone market being bandied around by consultants. Perhaps government workers thought there was a much bigger market for them to impose new taxes on. ®