Very recently, a British Airways aircraft, flying over Heathrow, experienced something very bizarre. The pilot operating the flight complained that something had struck the aircraft at the front. He claimed it was an unmanned, flying object.
It was later identified that the "unmanned object" was nothing else, but, a drone. Though the incident might seem mildly humorous, things could have taken a very bad turn. The flight from Geneva was carrying 132 passengers and was just approaching Heathrow for landing.
It isn't breaking news anymore; the drones are here to stay. What was once a military tool is now a commercial tool as well. Drones, apart from fun and entertainment, offer a wide range of benefits to various industries. For instance, photographers and videographers use then for aerial filming and aerial photography. In fact, they are even being used in the field of rescue operations to deliver medical and food supplies to disaster struck areas.
But, all said and done, most drones are still used for leisure and this has brought up the topic of their legality.
There are laws
Don't be fooled. There are strict laws concerning drone usage in most countries and also, in the UK. Cases like the one mentioned above make it necessary to implement laws concerning drone use. The House of Lords EU Committee had recently met to discuss the implications of drone use. The result of the meeting led to rules such as mandatory registration of all civilian and commercial drones.
With so many amateurs and first timers operating a machine that could have several implications, these rules seem more than necessary.
So, as far as rules go, you are freely allowed to operate a drone as long as it falls below the 20kg weight restriction and is not being used for commercial purposes. But, there are a few regulations you do need to follow.
First off, you are asked to maintain a distance of 150 metres or more from congested locations. If it is an individual person, vehicle, structure, or vessel, you need to keep a minimum distance of 50 metres.
Basically, you won't have problems if you're flying the drone in your own yard. But, if you're in a public space such as a park, it is best to keep the drone away from people.
Secondly, you are required to operate a drone within sight, which, means you will have to keep eyes on it at all times. Of course, there are instructions for that as well. You must fly the drone below an altitude of 400 feet and not cross more than 500 feet in terms of distance. To fly a drone at a higher altitude or for a longer distance, you will need clear permission from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).
What the CAA has to say about all this
As technology improves, drones just end up getting better and cheaper. It's only a matter of time before every second person has a drone. In the UK, many organizations and businesses are already makinguse of drones for deliveries and aerial surveys.
So, what does the CAA have to say?
Well, the CAA makes it clear that, in essence, operating a drone isn't illegal. The authority also states that drone operations for commercial purposes and leisurely drone use by civilians are very new concepts and there are no laws to regulate their use.So, it would be safe to say that drone laws are still in the evolutionary stage.
However, the CAA makes it very clear that a drone is still an "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle" and not just a toy. So, the basic regulations are still very much at play. For instance, a drone that weighs more than 20 kilos can only be used in certain certified locations such as Parc Aberporth, West Wales. Anything below the 20kg still requires CAA permission for commercial use.
In order to get permission, the operator has to prove that he/she is sufficiently skilled at operating a drone.
However, there are some areas that the CAA is not clear on. This includes the topic of privacy and noise disturbance. But, it is always a wise move to avoid filming people without their permission. For now, common decency would be the rule to follow.