Man fined for flying drone into Wellesbourne ATZ

A 37-year-old man has been convicted of various drone flying offences including infringing the air traffic zone of Wellesbourne Airfield.

Richard Smith pleaded guilty at Leamington Spa Magistrates Court on 5 July 2017 to 15 offences that took place over the course of four drone flights between December 2016 and January 2017. He was fined £259 with £30 surcharge and £185 costs imposed. An order to retain the drone has also been issued.

The investigation by Warwickshire Police began following a report of YouTube video footage showing concerning drone flights taking place across South Warwickshire. PC Craig Purcell was able to obtain evidence of a drone being flown in the following manner:

  • Up to 2km from the operator and well beyond his visual line of sight
  • Over the main road, houses and school of Lower Quinton village
  • Through fog and above the cloud base
  • Within the restricted airspace of Wellesbourne Airfield
  • Purposely flown to a distance that caused the aircraft to lose signal and initiate the ‘failsafe’ return to home mode.

There were a number of other issues noted and many of the offences took place with a non standard DJI Phantom 3 drone that had been modified with software and hardware to increase the flight distance capabilities.

Following the conviction, PC Purcell said, “We see many video examples across the internet of people purchasing their first drone and failing to adhere to laws put in place to protect members of the public. People need to be aware that you can’t just buy one of these machines, throw it into the air and start flying wherever you want without thought.

“The cost of drone technology is reducing rapidly. The secondhand market is bringing costs down even further meaning a 1kg to 2kg drone can be bought by somebody who has no idea how many times it has been crashed in the past or if it is structurally still sound.

“The courts have recognised the issue today and with the decision to deprive Mr SMITH of his drone on conviction we hope this sends a strong message to those who are giving the responsible hobbyist community a bad name.”

Warwickshire Police


  1. This is a very encouraging step to prevent this kind of misuse. The problem as I see it is that we have people who are not aviation enthusiasts who like the idea of the drone, flying as they wish out of any control and seeing things from another perspective without any consideration for what they are doing or the risks they are imposing upon others. They seem to have the view that they can achieve a dream to fly….sadly these drones are allowing this kind of approach. They need to be banned unless the operator (I hesitate to use the term Pilot) can demonstrate a level of competency and an understanding of the law. Model aircraft flyers have pursued their hobby for many years without any major incidents and I would hate to see this kind of irresponsible flying prevent the model aircraft fraternity from continuing their hobby and enjoyment. Drone operators are generally not aviation enthusiasts they are snoopers.

  2. I agree with ALL Mr Cook’s comments other than his utterly unfounded last sentence. As a CAA authorised drone ‘pilot’ (yes the CAA refer to the ‘operator’ as a pilot) with an aerial photographic company, the idea that we are snoopers is without any merit and makes Mr Cook look rather silly and a bit paranoid. I am also aware of a number of other commercial flyers none of whom have any intention to snoop on anybody, in fact we go out of our way to protect members of the public from unnecessary intrusion.
    I would frankly relish the licensing of ALL flyers be they fixed wing or drone and support harsh sentences for those breaking the rules. Safety comes before anything else.

    1. Think you’ll find “fixed wing flyers” as you describe us are already licensed. The fines for drone operators ( they aren’t pilots; to be a pilot of any craft you need to be on or in it).

      I also agree with ALL of Mr. Cooks comments. All of them.

  3. The fine seems ridiculously low given the penalties applied to GA pilots for infringements. They certainly do not seem to be high enough to discourage such activities; least to my mind.

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