Playing by the rules
Aside from entertainment, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures show that as of December 2015, 1302 commercial operators were given permission to conduct aerial work – compared with £1,500 an hour for helicopter and crew hire, drones are rightly regarded as cheap as chips. “Drones are already being widely used commercially in the UK,” says CAA Policy Director Tim Johnson. “Their primary purpose is for aerial filming or photography, surveying and inspection work, and search and rescue, with more opportunities likely in the future. However, it’s vital that the drone industry doesn’t create hazards for other aviation users. All commercial drone operations require permission to fly from the CAA. This approach is safety driven but proportionate in its approach, and we’re keen that as it evolves the regulatory framework is both effective and proportionate to the safety risk.”
“It is vital that the drone industry doesn’t create hazards for other aviation users. All commercial drone operations require permission to fly from the CAA. This approach is safety driven and we are keen that as it evolves the regulatory framework is both effective and proportionate to the safety risk.”
The aviation regulations are covered in CAP 393, Air Navigation: The Order and the Regulations (ANO 2009), articles 166 and 167, which address the key aspects of personal responsibility, distance and altitude, and article 138, which covers the need to respect the safety of persons or property when flying a drone. If you’re new to droning, download a copy of the CAA’s flyer, CAP 1202, for a reminder of the basic operational regulations. “Anyone using a drone should apply common sense when thinking about where to fly,” adds CAA’s Tim Johnson. “It’s clearly irresponsible to fly any device near an airport or flight paths, for example. You need to consider all aspects of your surroundings before every flight and keep a safe distance from people, buildings and vehicles and you must not fly it out of your sight. The CAA has developed a Dronecode offering straightforward guidance on how to fly safely, which we urge drone users to adopt, because anyone breaching those rules can be prosecuted.”
James Harvey, NATS Safety Engineer, is a case in point: “If you want to fly your drone commercially, as I do for photographic assignments, you need a PFAW (Permission For Aerial Work) from the CAA. To obtain this, the CAA first wants to see that you are competent in flying, that your operational procedures are safe, and that you’re insured – and insurance is directly linked to compliance with the CAA’s requirements. You’ll need proof, which means getting a qualification such as NATS’ RPAS course.”
Although commercial drone pilots require permission from the CAA, recreational users with drones carrying cameras should not fly their drones within 150 metres of a congested area or large crowds, and must not fly within 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure that isn’t under the control of the pilot. Drones with a weight of 20kg or less must be kept within the sight of the person operating it at all times whilst airborne so that potential collisions can be avoided. This ‘visual line of sight’ requirement typically translates as no more than 400ft above the ground or water or 500 metres horizontally. In actual fact, if your drone is 7kg or less, the limit is simply “within direct unaided visual contact sufficient to avoid collision”. However, given their size, 400ft and 500m are most likely the maximum distances at which you can achieve this. If you want to fly drones beyond these limits, you will need explicit permission from the CAA.
There are aspects not covered by current regulations, though – privacy is one potential flashpoint for conflict. Take filming people without their permission, for instance: this is a no-go area covered by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, by which everyone has the right to respect for private life, family life and home. It’s the latter that can easily lead to falling foul of privacy laws: Flying a drone with camera over private property can be interpreted as surveillance, which would be in clear breach of Article 8. If the general public is concerned about invasion of privacy, just imagine the explosion of lawsuits that apparent drone snooping would provoke if celebrities were the targets.