A man from Cumbria has become the first person in the UK to be successfully prosecuted for the dangerous and illegal flying of an unmanned aircraft.
Robert Knowles was found to have flown the device in restricted airspace over a nuclear submarine facility, as well as allowing the device to fly too close to a vehicle bridge.
Both offences breached the UK’s Air Navigation Order. Mr Knowles, of Barrow-in-Furness, was found guilty on Tuesday 1 April 2014 and fined £800 at Furness and District Magistrate Court, following the prosecution by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), who said the case raised important safety issues concerning recreational flying of unmanned aircraft. The CAA was also awarded costs of £3,500.
On 25 August 2013, the Court heard, an unmanned aircraft (UAV) was recovered from water near to a submarine testing facility in Barrow-in-Furness, operated by the defence company, BAE Systems. Analysis by the police of video footage taken from a camera fitted to the device subsequently revealed that during its flight it had skimmed over the busy Jubilee Bridge over Walney Chanel, well within the legally permitted 50 metres separation distance required. The UAV had also flown through restricted airspace around the nuclear submarine facility before it inadvertently landed in the water.
The UAV was traced to Mr Knowles who admitted to building the device himself and operating it on the day in question.
He was charged with flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft within 50 metres of a structure and flying over a nuclear installation.