Over the last few years, drones have taken off (no pun intended) in a big way. Once used only by the military, these unmanned aerial vehicles are now being used in a vast array of industries. Search and rescue operations, crop surveillance, and delivering medical supplies to inaccessible regions are just a few of the many applications of drones.
The use of drones by civilians has grown, as these devices are being produced for consumers for an affordable price. A lot of persons use them as toys, while others may attach a camera and use the drone for taking photos and videos from the sky.
Defining a Drone
If living in the United Kingdom and wish to fly a drone, there are rules that govern all aspects. A drone would be specified as any small unmanned aircraft that weighs less than 20 kilograms.
It is Not Easy to Control a Drone
The first thing that you should know about flying a drone, is that it is not always going to be easy to control. In reality, quadcopters are impossible to fly – they are kept stable by a computer that is inside of the body. This part of the drone is generally called the flight controller. Depending on how the flight controller is set up, each drone will fly just a little bit different than another. In some drones, the flight controller is set up for providing stability, while another flight controller may be set up for agility.
When shopping for a drone, it is important to know how the price is related to the level of difficulty for use. When looking at radio controlled cars, helicopters, or planes, as the price goes up the level of difficulty will go up as well. This is not the case for drones. As the price of a drone goes up, this means that there are added sensors and functionalities to the product, actually making it easier for a novice drone pilot to fly. In relation to the price versus difficulty level, the drones that are easiest to fly can be found for around £530.
Currently, some of the easiest drones to fly are the Q500 4K, Inspire 1, 3DR SOLO and the Phantom 3. The Syma X5C and Hubsan X4 are on the cheaper end of the spectrum, but they are a little bit harder to control by someone with only a little bit of experience.
Brand New Drones Are Not Always Ready to Fly
There are a few common acronyms that you will see when you are looking for a drone to purchase. There are RTF, ARF, and BNF.
RTF is short for ready-to-fly. In general, an RTF quadcopter will not need any additional assembly or setup, but you will need to do a few simple things like charge the battery, bind the controller to the quadcopter, or install the propellers.
ARF is short for almost-ready-to-fly. An ARF quadcopter is more like a drone kit. Normally they will not come with a receiver or transmitter and could require some assembly. This type of quadcopter kit would also leave it up to you to get some of the components like the battery, flight controller, motor, or ESCs. There is a very broad definition of ARF drone kits, so just know that no two are alike and the description and contents should be read thoroughly.
BNF is short for bind-and-fly. This type of drone normally comes totally assembled but lacks a controller. With this type of model, you will need to either use a compatible controller that you already have, or purchase one separately.
It should be noted that simply because a transmitter is on the same frequency as a receiver, it is not guaranteed that they will work together. They must also have the same manufacture protocol to be able to communicate. This is why it is so important to check that a controller will work with a drone prior to purchasing.
Rules for Flying a Drone
Due to the risk that drones pose to individuals, establishments, and even airports, there are a strict set of rules in place.
- First and foremost, when operating a drone, it must not endanger anything or anyone and the “remote pilot” is responsible for satisfying themselves that the flight will be conducted safely.
- The drone cannot be flown over or within 150 metres of an area that is congested.
- The drone cannot be flown within the confines of 50 metres of any vehicle, vessel, or anything that is not controlled by the person that is flying the drone.
- When the drone is in the air, it must stay in the visual line of sight of the remote pilot. This is generally 400 feet vertically and 500 metres horizontally.
- The drone cannot be flown within the confines of 150 metres of an open-air organized assembly made up of over 1000 people.
- The drone cannot be flown within 30 metres of any individual except for the individual that is in charge of the drone.
- If the drone is being operated outside of these distances, the remote pilot must seek approval from the CAA. The remote pilot must then prove that they can operate the drone safely outside of those distances.
- The drone cannot be flown within 50 metres of any individual—except when it is taking off or landing.
Surveillance and Work Drones
- Any small unmanned aircraft that is being used for the purposes of surveillance is subject to tighter restrictions regarding the minimum distance that is able to fly near people or properties.
- The remote pilot must seek permission from the CAA before these operations are commenced.
- When using a drone for paid aerial work, the remote pilot must get permission from the CAA before commencing work.
The Data Protection Act comes into action when flying a drone for surveillance purposes. This is because the camera on the drone will be collecting images of individuals that may be able to be identified, even if the images that were collected were not intentional. The Data Protection Act outlines how the images should be collected and stored. Be sure that you are in compliance with this Act when flying a drone with camera capabilities.
When a drone is being used for commercial purposes, the remote pilot must get permission from the CAA, and when the drone weighs over 20 kilograms, then it is only lawful to use it in a certified “danger area”.
The enforcement of the CAA is focused on ensuring that those who are not properly licensed are not using any drones for commercial purposes, but there have been a few instances in which the CAA imposed themselves and took action against a remote pilot, even when the person in question was using the drone for private (domestic) purposes.
The implications come when the drone poses a safety risk to a person or another aircraft of some sort, or when the drones with cameras pose a privacy risk to individuals that may be recorded. This is the reason that the CAA calls for permission.