This article is targeted towards companies who can see a business benefit in the use of aerial platforms. It may also be of use to hobbyists and yet-to-be commercial pilots in the UK who are a bit confused by the rules.
You can get pretty good cameras up into the air on small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones). The most common drones weigh under 7kg and do not need to be registered in the UK.
If you capture data from a drone for business gain, the pilot will need the Permission For Aerial Work (PFAW) certificate issued by the CAA. By “business gain” that means making money, promotion, cost saving or anything else that could be a benefit to an indivitual or a company – even a non-profit charity. Even adverts on your YouTube holiday videos are counted as a gain. Even taking photos of your house for a sales brochure are counted as gain.
Hobbyists can fly drones for their own pleasure anywhere they have the landowners permission and are not in airspace controlled by Air Traffic Control. If you fly in a public park, officially you must ask permission from the local council or governing body. DON’T FLY NEAR PEOPLE.
Thinking in the box
Without special permission from the UK CAA, you must fly in the “bubble”:
- Below 400ft
- No further than 500m away from pilot
- Within sight of pilot at all times (lose sight, fly straight back to where you can see it)
Also these Unmanned Aircraft Rules apply:
- Not over people’s heads, even if you are really high
- 30 metres away from people on take-off, unless part of the flight team
- People who may be affected by the flight must be told in reasonable time and given a chance to object
- While in flight stay 50 metres away from anyone not under the pilot’s control, i.e. the flight crew and maybe the subject to be filmed
- Stay 150m from a congested area. (The definition of “congested area” seems difficult to tie down but if there are more than a few buildings or people around, it’s congested.)
- Not in controlled airspace – e.g. near an aerodrome or somewhere with a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) that warns of low flying aircraft.
If the pilot has a PFAW, they can apply for special permission or exemption from the bubble and rules. Each application is studied on a case-by-case and can take some time but in general, if the proposal is sensible and risks are managed, the CAA will be happy for you to fly.
It’s all about insurance and liability
If your drone damages someone or something, the pilot is held liable. To get commercial insurance in the UK, you will need to have the PFAW certificate. You can get a hobby insurance from the BMFA which will cover you for 3rd party damage while you are flying sensibly. The BMFA also do a more advanced Demo & Data Capture insurance so you can record video and capture data but only for your own amusement, not to get paid for it.
Most people will not get caught uploading videos of their sailing/skiing/mountain bike club but for larger businesses who need liability insurance, it’s worth getting a professional, certified pilot to advise.
Hobby drone pilots have been fined. Commercial pilots are naturally more cautious about where they fly, gaining permissions and lowering risk but I’m sure that the CAA will be chasing companies who fly drones without qualified pilots and therefore without liability insurance.
If in doubt
Read the documentation…. start with the Civil Aviation Authority website.