UK Aerial Photography Law and CAA rules for drone useAlthough the Rise of the Drones might sound like the next Terminator movie, the reality is in the next few years our skies will be filled with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs. They can be bought in high street electrical retailers from as little as £40. For a £1000 you can get a Quadcopter that can carry a 4K Ultra High Definition camera and has built in GPS. While it is possible to pop into your nearest Maplins and be flying the same day these drones are NOT toys. The users do need to be aware of certain rules (and laws) set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

There are basically two sets of rules and I’ll cover the ones that apply to recreational drone use in this blog post. The other set of rules govern the use of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Surveillance) equipment for commercial purposes.

Rules for flying drones for recreational use

You are responsible for each flight.

This might seem obvious but with great power, comes great responsibility. Even with a governing set of laws and guidelines, ultimately each flight has to be planned, controlled and executed by the pilot. This means using your knowledge of the CAA rules combined with good old common sense to ensure your drone flies safely, each and every time you get it out of the box.
Every flight will be different because of the weather, location and the ever unpredictable general public. You need to be aware at all times of any variable that could affect your take off, flight and landing.

Keep your drone in clear sight.

Some drones come with FPV or First Person View capabilities. This means that you can wirelessly connect a monitor which allows you to see, in real time, the images being taken by the on board camera. This is essential for us when we carry out aerial photography or videography work as it allows us to perfectly compose each shot rather than flying blind. You can even get FPV Goggles that when wearing them, give you the impression that you are actually flying the drone.
When using an FPV setup, it’s very easy for the pilot to concentrate solely on the monitor and forget to watch the drone itself. It takes a matter of seconds for the aircraft to cover hundreds of yards and if you lose signal to the monitor while you aren’t watching the drone, you can be in big trouble. It is essential for each flight to have a ‘spotter’ that will be watching the aircraft while the FPV operator is watching the monitor.
For our bigger drones, we use a two person setup with two monitors. One camera/monitor shows the FPV view of the Hexacopter or Octocopter while the other shows the view through the camera. They are controlled independently. Even with the two operators it is essential that line of sight is maintained to the aircraft at all times.

 Keep your distance

UK aerial photography law states that you must stay 50 meters away from any person, building, vehicle or structure at all times. These aircraft can travel at 30mph and in wind, cover the ground with astonishing speed. 50 meters can be covered in a matter of seconds and when you’re learning to fly it is probably better to keep a bigger safety cushion than this.
For large crowds, that distance must increase to at least 150 meters.

Do not fly over congested areas

GPS enabled drones with their incredible safety features very rarely have problems and fall from the sky. Sometimes though, THEY DO! It only takes a quick search on YouTube to find a plethora of videos showing drones falling to the ground. This means that you should NEVER fly over any congested area like towns, streets and sporting events.
Our bigger drones can carry DSLRs and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realise the damage that they can cause if in free-fall.

Pre-flight Checks

A lot of drone pilots, enthusiasts and professionals alike, modify their aircraft to suit their specific needs. They add cameras, transmitters, GPS trackers, OSDs (used to display flight information on FPV setups) and rotor protectors. Each of these can be glued, cable tied or soldered into place. This means that if they are not attached correctly due to incorrect installation or if they have loosened over time, they can fall off the aircraft during flight.
It is therefore essential to carry out pre-flight checks before taking off. These include checking all rotor blades for damage, checking all equipment is still attached correctly and that all batteries have an adequate charge. All aircraft carry out pre-flight checks and a drone is definitely an aircraft.

You are responsible for each flight!

No, you haven’t just experienced Deja-vu, this heading was at the top of the page. I thought I’d state it again due to its obvious importance. Common sense plays a huge part in each and every flight. Ignorance of the law isn’t a defence if you damage something or worse, cause an injury.
Before each flight, survey your surroundings. Are they power lines near? Will this park suddenly become congested? Is the wind gusting? What happens if I need to take emergency action? It is up to us to ensure we make this sport/hobby/profession as safe as possible. It seems that each week we see a negative story in the press involving the use of drones. Usually due to someone not following the rules. Let’s all keep to the guidelines and make ‘The Rise of the Drones’ a less frightening future.

Please see the links below for more information on UK aerial photography law

The Civil Aviation Authority – UAS guidelines

An info-graphic from the CAA showing the rules in this article

Or contact us for more information

Aerial Photography Wales