London: Drones will have to be registered in Britain for the first time as ministers try to prevent a catastrophic mid-air crash between the gadgets and a jetliner.
Operators will have to sit safety tests before they are allowed to fly them in the UK.
Owners of drones weighing 250g and over will have to log details of their devices in a move the Government hopes will “improve accountability and encourage owners to act responsibly”.
But many of the gadgets for sale on the high street are too light to be affected by the regulation.
The Government insisted it chose the weight following new research.
Experts have issued repeated warnings of the growing menace of drones in the skies.
Incidents logged by the UK Airprox Board, which investigates near-misses in British airspace, rocketed from just three in 2014 to 27 a year later and 71 in 2016.
A total of 26 were classified as category A, the most serious, in 2016.
Figures show forces police recorded 3,456 drone incidents last year, almost triple the 2015 figure of 1,237 and more than 12 times the 2014 tally of 283.
Incidents included rows between neighbours, prison smuggling, burglary “scoping” exercises and snooping fears.
The announcement came after a study found drones weighing 400g could damage the windscreen of a helicopter.
It would take a heavier drone of around 2kg to smash airliner windscreens – and only if the plane was flying at high-speed rather than during take-off and landing, according to the research.
The Civil Aviation Authority called for a register of drone users to be linked to systems providing real-time tracking and tracing of the gadgets.
British Airline Pilots’ Association 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 was “encouraged the Government has taken on board calls for a registration and licensing scheme for drones and drone users”, adding: “This will help ensure users understand and follow safety rules, and help the police trace drones if needed.
“We hope that urgent Government action will now follow to control this proven threat before there is a disaster and lives are lost.”
MPs debated the growing risk from drones earlier this week in Westminster Hall.
It came after a worrying incident at Gatwick earlier this month when airliners were twice banned from landing after a drone was spotted hovering near the runway.
Planes were diverted and others put in holding patterns because of the closures, one lasting nine minutes and the other five.
It caused “great cost and inconvenience to airlines, to the airport and, most importantly, to passengers”, MPs were told.
Aviation Minister Lord Callanan 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.”
The Civil Aviation Authority’s existing “Droen Code” states that the devices must not be flown near airports, airfields or aircraft; should stay below 400ft; and be kept at least 150ft away from people and property.