Until fairly recently, drone aircraft were limited to military use, and some niche professionals involved with intelligence, photography, cartography, and industries like real estate and construction. Today, the scene is vastly different, and now there are millions of people considering buying drones every single year. At the end of 2016, a major UK retailer reported a 60% increase in drone sales, illustrating just how desirable these small UAVs have become.
If you’re the proud owner of a new drone, then you’re going to have countless hours of enjoyable flight in front of you, however, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re using a drone in a safe and responsible way.
The United Kingdom has some of the busiest airspace in the world, so operating a drone can be riskier and inherently more dangerous than in other countries. If you want to be certain that you’re on the right side of safety and the law, then you’re going to have to get up to speed with the rules and best safety practices for when your drone is in the air.
Know the Rules Before Operating a Drone
As fun as drone piloting can be, it’s essential that you understand that a drone is just like any other aircraft in the sky. While not as large as a helicopter or an airliner, there’s still significant opportunity for damage or injury to occur from incorrect use of a drone.
According to the UK Airprox Board, an organisation that tracks and records incidents or near incidents between aircraft in the sky, there are up to four near misses between drones and commercial aircraft every month. Due to the relatively low altitude operation of drones, incidents are most likely to occur during the take-off and landing procedures of large aircraft; both of which are highly critical times during any flight.
If you’re to avoid involvement in an incident or even a collision, you’ll need to follow the Drone Code.
The government backed organisation called Drone Safe is responsible for setting out the rules and codes of conduct for drone pilots in the UK. They are supported by the Civil Aviation Authority, as well as a number of industry bodies like Airlines UK, the British Airline Pilots Association, and the Department of Transport.
The code is simple:
Don’t fly near airports or airfields.
Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
Observe your drone at all times – stay 50m away from people and property.
Never fly near other aircraft.
While these rules might sound like simple common sense, you would be surprised at how many early drone operators failed to adhere to these rules. With more drones now being owned by the general public, it’s essential that you understand each rule of the Drone Code, and follow them at all times.
Following the rules is not a simple obligation, but is actually your legal responsibility. Using a drone dangerously, such as in close proximity to an airport or another aircraft, could result in criminal prosecution and the confiscation of your device. While drones have become more affordable in the past five years, they still represent a significant financial investment. If you want to remain in possession of your drone and avoid legal proceedings, you simply need to stay away from high risk areas.
Modern consumer drones are much more powerful than the models that were previously available on the market, and it could be that your drone is able to exceed 400ft of altitude. It can be exciting to push the limits of your drone. After all, this is cutting edge technology that we’re talking about. However, the more distance you place between yourself and your drone, the more chance there is that you will be involved in an incident. Remaining within the altitude limit is essential, and you should not ignore this rule under any circumstance. Losing connection to your drone or losing sight of it is a real possibility at high altitudes, and no matter how much self-stabilization and navigation a drone is capable of, there’s always a risk of something going seriously wrong. Drones are fun, but they’re not toys.
In addition to maintaining a safe altitude, you will also have the responsibility of keeping a safe distance from people and property. In lightly populated areas, such as parks or low density residential areas, you are required to remain 150ft (50m) from people and property at all times. There are no exceptions, and again, you’ll be legally responsible in cases where you cause damage or injury. If you’re operating a drone in built up areas, you’ll need to remain at least 500ft (150m) away from people and property. This can make it difficult to operate a drone in busy urban areas, to the point where it’s probably not feasible to use your drone in a larger town or city. This is for good reason. There’s far more RF interference and physical interference from building materials, and the conditions make loss of control or communication to your drone a reality. It’s best to take your drone well away from cities and towns before you to take to the air.
Act Responsibly When Enjoying Your Drone
There’s a lot of fun that you can have with a drone. Whether you simply enjoy the challenge and freedom of navigating a drone, or if you’re interested in aerial photography, drones today are getting smaller, lighter, and increasingly more capable.
To ensure that you get the most out of your drone, while also allowing others to enjoy their right to safety, make sure that you always follow the drone code, and exercise caution and common sense the next time that you’re behind the controls.