DRONES - unmanned remote-controlled aircraft - have been banned from London's airspace during President Barack Obama's visit this week.

A collision between a British Airways Airbus A320 passenger jet and a drone earlier this week left the plane undamaged but politicians shaken.

The incident has focused attention on the growing popularity of drones and the potential for catastrophe if a badly flown unmanned aircraft were to be ingested by a jet engine.

In the first two months of this year, the UK Airprox Board investigated ten near-misses involving drones. The Ministry of Justice also says criminals are using drones to infiltrate prisons.

Britain already has strict rules on drone flying. Operators cannot use them near airports, in congested areas, close to buildings or above 400ft. Anyone convicted of breaking the rules could face a prison sentence and a fine. Endangering the safety of an aircraft is a separate offence which carries a maximum life term.

Despite this, and despite the growing number of near-miss reports, there have only been a handful of prosecutions for dangerous drone activity. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will only prosecute where there is a proven threat to aviation and the police say it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a pilot on the ground when a drone crashes.

Clearly, there is some confusion over the rules - at least one red-faced police force has been warned by the CAA for using a drone without an appropriate licence - and police need clearer guidance.

Prosecution may not even be the best solution. Perhaps the police need an alternative - something similar to a speed awareness course - for contrite drone pilots?

Hobbyists who spend thousands on their drones do not want to fall foul of the law.

If the goal is for drone pilots to make the right choices then education, not punishment, is the way forward.