UK studies stricter alcohol limits for drone operation than driving

UK alcohol drone operation

Backyard barbeque drone fliers in Britain may want to have a designated pilot standing by before long. UK authorities are now studying a proposal to set legal limits on alcohol for drone operation even tighter than the DUI thresholds for drivers.

The UK government’s Department of Transport (DfT) is considering the alcohol restrictions on  drone operation as part of a broader overhaul of rules regulating airspace. The move anticipates the skies becoming considerably more crowded as the number of leisure drones and commercial craft for deliveries, surveying, inspections, and passenger transport expands in the near future. As part of that, the DfT is studying proposals to set stricter blood and breath alcohol limits on private fliers, and tighten those already in place for “specific category” pilots providing services such as wedding photography or real estate evaluations.

As currently written, that plan would set maximum amateur alcohol levels of 0.29 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood for non-professional pilots and 0.2 for “specific category” drone operators – the same as current levels for people flying airplanes. 

For comparison, legal DUI thresholds for drivers in England is 0.8, 0.5 in Scotland and Ireland, 0.04 in France, and 0.08 in most US states. The FAA, which urges pilots to wait at least eight hours since their last drink before reaching for a controller, limits drone operation blood alcohol levels to 0.04. 

Proposed UK DUI alcohol limits for drone operation still higher than for driving in some nations

Despite having higher maximum ceilings on booze in people navigating various kinds of vehicles, wording of the document before the DfT seems to anticipate pushback from pilots acclimated to the option of preparing for missions with a pint or two at the pub.

“The limits that we are proposing for all three categories are relatively low as 
unmanned aircraft have the potential to cause substantial harm to those on the ground or to other forms of aviation, regardless of the category of operation in which the flight occurs,” the Future of Flight paper reads. “The limits proposed for the open category are slightly higher than those proposed for the specific and certified categories to reflect the fact that the operations that take place in that category pose less of a risk.”

Thus far, opposition to the suggested legal changes has been limited to organizations representing UAV users, which have expressed bewilderment at the move. They say current rules generically prohibit drone operators from drinking, and view a specification of legal alcohol limits as bureaucratic interference that actually moves in the wrong direction. There have been, those groups hasten to note, no known cases of drunk UAV pilots in the UK having ever been involved in an accident of any kind. 

There have been the odd drunk flying incidents elsewhere, however. And it’s also evident the vastly increase in the number of craft and kinds of missions they’ll fly in the near future will require an array of new or tightened regulations to be introduced around the globe. The DfT has not yet said exactly what proposals it will eventually introduce for parliamentary debate, though it has indicated it will table a draft law when the legislative agenda allows.

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