There are 4,000 CAA certified drone pilots in the UK. This number has shot up over the last five years. Drone use for aerial photography and surveying has mushroomed.
As a CAA certified drone pilot with a PfCO (permission for commercial operations) I have learned a great deal about the legalities and safety issues around the industry.
And it is an industry. It’s calculated by consultancy firm PWC as worth $5bn currently worldwide. They have given an estimated value of $35 bn in five years. That is a heck of a lot of growth.
The majority of that expansion is surveying and 3d mapping. Sounds technically impressive but mapping involves almost zero flying control as it is done by the app. It does involve 100% safety consideration as ever.
It is all about back office data crunching so isn’t really ever going to showcase your amazing flying skills. But the value to traditional surveying industries like architecture, urban development and structural maintenance is huge.
So what are all those qualified pilots doing with their time? Well as you might expect they are all over the tv and film industry like a rash. What one piece of advice would I give to anyone coming in to drone flying now? If you have a serious desire to build a business concentrate on surveying and mapping.
That’s where the growth is and that is where I would recommend you concentrate your focus.
If you have been through the CAA training you will know this next bit. It worries me how many people heading out with their expensive shiny new drone don’t have a clue about it. Did you know it is illegal to fly over or within 50m of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure? Or over or within 150m of a congested area?
The drone must not be flown for the purpose of commercial operations except with a permission granted by the CAA. Do you have permission from the landowner – including your take off and landing point? Is what you are filming under your control?
So what if you do not have a CAA PfCO and your mate asks you to film their wedding for a crate of beer or a free spa? If you go for it you are committing an offence. It invalidates any insurance you might have – and again if you fly without proper insurance you’re committing an offence.
When friends tell me their new drone has a range of 5km, my heart sinks. You are required to keep your drone in visual line of sight at all times. And at a maximum distance of 500m. That is not 5km!
In response to the ludicrous shenanigans around airports recently, the CAA have issued some new notices. It includes the exclusion zone round airports being increased from 1 km to 5km.
Also as of November this year, anyone – anyone – purchasing a drone will be required to register it. They will be asked to pay a small fee for an online safety awareness and compliance questionnaire. Not a lot of people know that. If you would like to read a comprehensive update on all the CAA changes coming in this year click here.
If you are flying for financial reward, cash or otherwise, you are committing an offence if you do not have a valid CAA PfCO. It means if your footage is being used in a media production, it can be ordered to be withdrawn by the CAA.
The police have been given the task of catching and prosecuting offenders. It used to be down to the CAA. The implied risk if you are caught, knowingly or unknowingly, breaking the law is you are in the doo doo.
Not being aware you are committing an offence won’t get much sympathy. Just like committing an offence in a car and claiming ignorance of the Highway Code. It’s your job to know!
Apologies for the “preachy” tone of this article. It worries me how many people using drones have no idea at all about any of the above.
Now for an example of how it is possible to get some great shots safely and legally. This video I shot on West Wittering beach ticks the boxes. I wasn’t flying for commercial gain as it happens. The only people around were friends who had given me permission to film them. I was away from any roads or buildings and could film without overflying them.
If you are flying commercially, you have the permission of the landowner and the people you are filming are what’s known as under your control, you can film as close as you like within the usual safety considerations.
Flying is about common sense – so use some! Let’s work to promote a positive image for drone pilots.