Don’t Hit A Plane With Your Drone: Your Guide To UAV Legislation
Earlier this week, a drone collided with a British Airways aeroplane. This hit the news for a number of reasons – but thankfully not because it was an engine strike or emergency landing. Mostly, it was the first recorded incident of its type across the world – and it brought into question current drone legislation.
Not sure if you know what’s what when it comes to your drone? Whether you’re a hobbyist, a drone racer, or commercial drone pilot, we’ll lay it out for you here. Remember, drone legislation does vary from country to country and even within local states, so always make sure you have the correct license and permissions before taking each flight.
UAV, UAS, Drone… What’s The Difference?
Drones are known and referred to across legislation under various different guises – but all the names mean the same thing, and therefore all regulations still apply.
Common names for a drone are:
UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
UAS: Unmanned Aerial System
SUAS: Small Unmanned Aerial System
RPV: Remotely Piloted Vehicle
RPAS: Remotely Piloted Aircraft System
You’ll probably have noticed an increase in the use of these terms instead of the word drone, and for good reason: many commercial UAV users feel the military association with the term of drone is negative. Using an alternative term such as SUAS differentiates the vehicles from the traditionally weaponised drones used in the military – but it’s important to remember that the above terms apply to all types of unmanned aerial vehicle. It’s just a case of preference!
Local Versus State Regulations For Civil Aircraft
You need to know the regulations of airspace in the area in which you’re flying your drone, with every single flight. Sometimes the permissions of a property might change – for example if a public space is subsequently sold off as private land – so always ensure to check every time you fly, even if it’s your regular practice ground.
A drone under 150kg is classed as a ‘civil aircraft’ so it’s these regulations you need to seek out. If you’re using a drone under 150kg for police, state, fire, emergency services, or search and rescue, there are some exemptions to the rules which apply – again, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with these depending on your unique circumstances.
The CAA is the UK’s airspace regulator, and while it’s a mission of a read we strongly advise familiarising yourself with the document CAP 722 – which covers everything you need to know as a hobbyist or commercial drone pilot. It is also worth checking out the latest word from the European Union for further information, or if you’re planning to fly in a member state. Remember though to check the country-specific laws first!
Like the European Union regulations, when it comes to the FAA in the United States, there are overall guidelines but local rules mean every state is different. It’s worth mentioning that anyone wanting to fly a drone with commercial purpose within the United States must apply for a Section 333 Waiver from the FAA. These used to be very tricky to get hold of, but it’s becoming easier with the increased commercialisation of drones.
There are common themes when it comes to drone regulations. We’ll take the UK legislation for an example, but it should help you know what you’re looking for whichever country you’re flying in.
1) Always operate in the line of sight – that means you must always be able to physically see your drone from where you stand to pilot it; this is usually around a distance of 500m horizontally and 120m vertically.
2) Drones fitted with a camera must be flown a certain distance away from people, vehicles, buildings, or structures – in the UK, this distance is 50m.
3) UAVs with cameras must also not fly within a certain distance of large crowds of people, such as at outdoor festivals – in the UK, this is a minimum of 150m.
4) Any commercial venture must have the required permit and license from the relevant authority (such as the CAA) in order to be allowed to operate.
5) You must not fly your drone within a certain distance of airports or air fields; in the UK this is a minimum distance of five miles. This can sometimes be lifted with special permissions.
The above distances will usually apply when the drone is not in control from a pilot – by which this means you have pre-set a GPS flight rather than providing manual hands-on control. A good way to see the difference is to look at some hobby footage versus professional film footage – the blockbusters always have close-up drone shots thanks to super-skilled pilots who don’t even need GPS assistance!
As an interesting side note, some drones are pre-built with geo-fencing software. This means the drone will automatically not fly into unauthorised drones – such as too near an airport – thanks to GPS positioning.
If you’re a hobbyist, you don’t technically need a license – however you must still adhere to common regulations by the national airspace association, such as the CAA in the UK or the FAA in the USA. These regulations will usually include how close you can fly to landmarks such as schools, places of worship, and air fields.
In the UK, to gain a commercial drone pilot license – meaning you can fly your drone for your own or someone else’s business – you must train via a CAA-approved provider. There are currently only a handful of these around, and COPTRZ™ work with only the best. We can place you with the best training provider in your area, for a short or full training course depending on your needs.
Even if you only plan to take on a drone as a hobby, we strongly advise that you consider at least a day’s training to learn how to properly control your drone. This way you’ll be able to instantly get more enjoyment out of it as you learn advanced techniques under proper instruction, and you’re also far less likely to crash it!
Drone Insurance Requirements
Drone insurance is a growing business, and for good reason! Even the most experienced of drone pilots could encounter tricky situations – even being attacked by an eagle. As you do. If your drone is insured, you’re less likely to fall into as many pieces as your drone, knowing it can be repaired or replaced on your drone insurance.
Normal contents or business public liability insurance policies are unlikely to cover drones, as they are such as new technology and legislation is still under development. If you have an existing insurance policy, it’s worth talking to your provider about the specific drone cover they could offer.
When looking for drone insurance, remember these few points:
1) Your insurance needs to cover the correct weight class for your drone – check your local and national regulations on this before purchasing a policy.
2) The policy should include public liability cover as well as accidental cover for the drone itself.
3) Make sure you know who is allowed to fly the drone in order to make the insurance valid.
Public liability insurance seems strange if you’re a hobby drone pilot, but it’s essential if you want to avoid being sued in case of an accident. What if your drone crashes onto private property, into a moving vehicle, or takes out a power line? These are extreme examples of course – but better to be safe with a comprehensive insurance policy than be stung with the huge costs of a court case.
The Future Of Drone Regulations
With such high-profile cases such as the British Airways incident this week, there is no doubt that the increased commercial development of drones will lead to changes in regulations and legislation the world over.
A common call is for all drones to be registered, in the same way a car would be, although this is harder to enforce than it would seem on paper. A drone is remote by nature – so how do you know who is flying it?!
The information in the article above is correct as of 18/04/2016 – but as a drone pilot, whether hobby or commercial, it’s always ultimately your responsibility to double-check the latest regulations for your area.
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