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Drones are becoming an ever more popular mode for remote controlled aviation.

Despite the rise in consumer use of drones, and the persevering interests of numerous retailers, no one seems any the wiser over how they are to be regulated and introduced into an already packed airspace.

 

What’s the current situation?

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), lay claim to the present set of rules that anyone flying a personal drone must abide by. Structured points such as not flying above 400 feet (122 metres), and keeping any camera-harnessing drone at least 50 metres from people, vehicles and buildings, give drone enthusiasts some basic guidelines to follow. Unfortunately, the remaining CAA rulings are somewhat vague.

 

For example, a part of what the CAA call “The Dronecode” states:

  • Use your common sense and fly safely; you could be prosecuted if you don’t.

The alarm bells start ringing when national authorities such as these are using little more than subjectivity to define laws of aviation. When you read on and notice other, still relatively ambiguous, advice such as:

  • Drones with cameras also must not be flown over congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events.
  • Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.

Then you quickly realise that, perhaps, the relevant authorities have no clearly defined regulations on the subject, and are scratching their heads over how to approach such a multi-faceted issue.

Elsewhere, further stipulations are in place regarding permissions when using a drone. If you plan to make some money whilst flying you’re drones about, then you need permission from CAA. Similarly, you’ll need a CAA thumbs up if you’re flying close to busy areas, or near people or buildings you have no control over. You even need to consider weight. If the drone is over 20kg, then again, you’ll have to get permission from the CAA. Essentially, unless you’re flying it in your back garden for 10 minutes, you’re likely to be on the blower to the CAA.

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Even when you’ve taken all this into consideration, you’re still left pondering the data protection laws. Obviously, these only apply to drones with cameras, and again, terms such as “use your common sense” are applied when filming other people’s property.

 

The New Proposals

It’s these final points that might be most relevant when we extend the thought of drones out to wider commercial use. Sure, we don’t want a liberty-reducing set of regulations that ruin all the fun for Joe Drone-Flyer and his mates, who just wants to blast his favourite toy around the park. But given that huge deliverers such as Amazon, Alibaba and DLP have all experimented in drone delivery, some of the issues above have greater relevance commerically.

Regardless, this hasn’t stopped Amazon, the most vocal in their intentions for drone delivery, calling for a change in aviation laws to accommodate drones. They propose that airspace from 200 to 400 feet in the air (61 to 122 metres) be held exclusively for commercial drone use, i.e. for delivery of parcels to awaiting customers, which would be controlled via an automated computer system. In addition, space under 200 feet would be used by local drone traffic, such as those who currently abide by the CAA’s stipulations.

 

Problems aren’t going away 

Amazon have stated how important it is clearly define regulations for drone delivery, thus enabling them to operate without endangering any larger aircraft flying up ahead. A couple of instances of this have occurred recently, further elevating the need to instigate some proper regulations. Back in December, a commercial flight coming to land at Heathrow came within 80 feet of colliding with an unidentified drone flying over 700 feet off the ground. The plane, which could carry up to 180 people, was given an “A” incident rating (meaning “serious risk of collision”). Similar reports have emerged recently from Warsaw, where a drone passed 100 metres from a Lufthansa flight as it prepared to land 108 people in the Polish capital.

Serious consequences could emerge from great hunks of metal finding their way into a plane’s engine, and examples such as these should be a warning to authorities as they ponder the best move forward.

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Safety concerns are not the only jibe either. As mentioned above, privacy is a sizeable barrier in the way of drone use both commercially and privately, and it came to a head in the US recently when a man shot down a drone flying around his neighbourhood. William Meredith of Kentucky took the drone out as the flew over his property, citing concerns over the privacy of his daughters. Meredith, who said “I felt that I was well within my rights as an American citizen to defend my property” was subsequently arrested and charged with first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment.

Despite this incident occurring during the use of a private drone, it equally poses problems for commercial use. It’s likely that delivery services such as Amazon will strap various cameras to their drones. As they bustle around busy cities and neighbourhoods, what happens to the data collected on various people who stray in front of the camera? If the drone accidentally lands in the wrong house, is it your right to shoot it (or lob a brick at it) and bring it down as it trespasses on your property?

A series of dilemmas still haunt the possible roll out of drone delivery services. But with their private use increasing , and pressure growing for some degree of commerical use, those dilemmas are elevating all the time.

What do you make of the issues surrounding drone use? Can users be trusted with our privacy, and does it pose serious safety concerns for people on the ground and in the air? How might we overcome these issues? Let us know in the comments below.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Oh dear, and I just bought one so my hubby can inspect the roof and take good crowd shots at our daughter’s wedding. Sounds like the only place we’d be allowed to use it would be in a deserted field miles from civilisation. What a waste of money.

  2. I have a very sophisticated drone and before using it I looked on the Internet for any regulations. THe current limits seem quite reasonable, but who is around to enforce them? Personally I feel that there may need to be more regulations, within reason, and that all drones should be registered with the CAA (as long as they don’t charge too much for it) so that action can be taken against anyone who breaks the range, height or proximity limits. Unfortunately, policing the flight of drones is a whole new ball game. A transponder to make the drone visible to air traffic and manned aircraft would help, but the smallest transponders commercially available at the moment weigh in at 100gm and cost in the region of £1000, not too heavy but well outside what the casual drone flyer could afford. However, if we had to add this to our payload, then I’m sure one or more of the transponder manufacturers would come up with something lighter and cheaper that would provide the minimum functionality (transmitting 3-d location information and an identifIcation code should be adequate ).

  3. The CAA legislation is very vague, data protection law does not apply to an individual and the law for photographers rights are at odds with the CAA’s idea of use of a camera!

  4. For many years now radio controlled aircraft have been flown safely within clubs and by individuals. This has been overseen by the BMFA who advise and insure members. More importantly, they provide a training structure through the clubs that allow people to be trained and pass an exam that shows a level of competency. I believe that much of the the problem has been caused by the preliferation of drone aircraft by the high street ship and on line. There retailers have no interest in the hobby and do not promote training or safe practices. If this continues, we wil all loose out and legislation will inhibit the use of there and other aircraft.

  5. If a drone lands on my lawn and I throw a brick at it and claim trespass, I would fully expect to get a conviction for criminal damage or similar. It’s not acceptable to hurl a brick at a dog, cat, child or fully grown adult that has mistakenly strayed onto my front garden, why should I be allowed to throw one at a drone?

    According to Wikipedia, trespass to land involves the “unjustifiable interference with land which is in the immediate and exclusive possession of another”. Accidentally landing on another person’s property is more akin to the childhood scenario of “can I have my ball back please?”.

  6. Looking at the problems above, logically speaking it should be easy to deliver a working model for the DRONES in question. Firstly every individual DRONE should have public liability insurance of £1 million, commercial DRONES should have at least £5 million. They should fly above the ground at a height above the tallest wind turbine + say 10 metres. ALL DRONES should have L.E.D.’s on them just like planes and helicopters that have lights on them. Commercial routes should be made, just like planes and helicopters having to file a flight plan. ALL should have GPS locators, and at least 1 downward looking camera with 360 degrees all round fish eye lense. All the cameras can have privacy mask enabled to blank out all windows, like face/plate recognition software. Also maybe a MUST-HAVE COMPULSORY inspection each year for commercial DRONES with an inspection after each delivery for damage/wear and tear etc.

  7. Currently, the CAA are making the commercial use of drones by photographers and videographers unacceptably expensive and restricted

    You can purchase a professional 4K video drone for £1,000 upwards but, you have to pay £1,500 to undertake the required training before you can apply for permission. You are then required to pay the CAA a further fee for permission, current charges range from £112 – £224 for 12 months, however, all the same restrictions apply, Max Altitude 400ft, Flight Distance within eyesight and not further than the eye can see, even although the pilot can see, in first person view, up to 3.5km. No use of a drone within 50ft of people, so forget using it at weddings or for any other ‘people’ video shoots.

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