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A drone registration system is to be launched in a bid to reduce the increasing problem of their misuse, the Government has announced.
Currently anyone can buy one on the High Street but a series of recent near-misses have fuelled fears there could be a mid-air crash between a drone and an aircraft.
Twenty-two incidents involving drones, balloons or unknown flying objects were investigated by the UK Airprox Board from January to April
The gadgets are at the centre of thousands of incident recorded by police forces each year, including rows between neighbours, prison smuggling, burglary “scoping” exercises and fears around snooping.
Figures obtained by the Press Association show forces recorded 3,456 episodes last year, almost triple the 2015 figure of 1,237 and more than 12 times the 2014 tally of 283.
The proposed measure will help authorities trace owners when the unmanned gadgets are used inappropriately – with their increased use to fly drugs and other contraband into prison a growing concern.
The new rules, drawn up following a consultation, mean drones weighing 250g or more will have to be registered.
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The cost of the scheme is not yet known, but an online or app-based system could be used and users will have to pass a safety awareness test as part of the process.
Although many drones are too light to be affected by the regulation, the Government said it chose the weight following the latest research which found drones weighing 400g could damage the windscreen of a helicopter.
It would take a heavier drone of around 2kg to critically harm airliner windscreens and only if the aircraft was flying at high-speed rather than during take-off and landing, according to the research.
The Government is now considering the best legislative option for introducing the rules.
It also plans to expand the use of geo-fencing, through which drones are programmed not to enter restricted locations, such as prisons or airports.
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The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) called for a register of drone users to be linked to systems which would allow real-time tracking and tracing of the gadgets, to aid enforcement of flying laws.
Aviation minister Lord Callanan claimed the new rules will strike a balance between taking advantage of the benefits of drones while minimising their misuse.
He said: “The UK is at the forefront of an exciting and fast growing drones market and it is important we make the most of this emerging global sector.
”Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones. Increasingly, drones are proving vital for inspecting transport infrastructure for repair or aiding police and fire services in search and rescue operations, even helping to save lives.
“But like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones and introducing safety awareness tests to educate users, we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”
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Simon Dale, of the FPV group for drone pilots, has expressed concern about the measure to make leisure users register.
“It will impact the safe and sensible drone fliers and will not affect criminals or terrorists,” he said.
Commercial operators already have to complete a training course approved by the CAA and notify the regulator of what drones they have.
The Press Association contributed to this report