A drone registration system is to be launched after research found the flying gadgets could smash plane windscreens, the government has announced.
The measure will help authorities trace the devices' owners when they are used inappropriately.
New rules announced by the Government mean dronesweighing 250g or more will have to be registered. An online or app-based system may be introduced and users will have to pass a safety awareness test as part of the process.
Concerns that a mid-air collision between a drone and an aircraft could occur have been fuelled by scores of near misses.
Forty-eight incidents involving drones or unknown objects were investigated by the UK Airprox Board during the first half of the year.
Pilots' union Balpa said the results of the study into what would happen in the event of a crash were "robust verification" for its warnings of possible catastrophe.
It funded independent tests with the Department for Transport (DfT) and regulator the Military Aviation Authority which revealed that drones weighing 400g could smash a helicopter windscreen, and those weighing 2kg could critically damage an airliner windscreen.
Helicopter rotors could also be shattered by the gadgets, according to the research.
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: "Pilots have been warning about the rise in the number of cases of drones being flown irresponsibly close to aircraft and airports for some time.
"This report clearly shows that readily-available drones which can be flown by anyone can shatter or go straight through an aircraft windshield or shatter a helicopter rotor. And those impacts would have catastrophic consequences."
He added: "We hope that urgent Government action will now follow to control this proven threat before there is a disaster and lives are lost."
The DfT said it is exploring the best legislative options for introducing the tougher operating 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.
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.
The weight restriction on the registration rules mean many small drones available on the high street will be unaffected as they are too light.
An investigation published earlier this year revealed police are being flooded with reports about drones.
The gadgets are at the centre of thousands of episodes registered by police forces each year, including rows between neighbours, prison smuggling, burglary "scoping" exercises and snooping fears.
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.
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: "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."
The measures follow a consultation looking at ways to make drone use safer.
Commercial operators already have to complete a training course approved by the CAA and notify the regulator of what drones they have.
Drone users must follow a number of restrictions when using the gadgets.
In November 2016, the Civil Aviation Authority launched a website to publish a revised code of conduct, labelled the Drone Code.
The rules say the devices must not be flown:
:: Above 400ft (120m);
:: Where you cannot see them;
:: Near aircraft, airports or airfields;
:: Within 150ft (50m) of people or property;
:: Over crowds and built-up areas;
:: Within 500ft (150m) horizontally of crowds and built-up areas.