Drones took off before the law could catch up — quite literally! When you get gifted or treat yourself to what is essentially a tiny flying robot, the excitement can quickly overshadow just how dangerous drones can be, and how easy it is for you to lose or damage yours. So now that you’ve got your drone, what do you do next, and what should you know?
1) READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!
I started out as a hobbyist flyer, so when I went to train to become a CAA-licensed pilot, I was shocked by how risky it can all be! If you’re new to flying, make the drone instructions, the drone code, and the legislation on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website your bible.
Hobbyists don’t have to brush up on every tiny detail of the aerodynamics keeping drones in flight, but if you suddenly lose connection and aren’t aware of the bring-it-home failsafes, a disastrous panic could ensue.
2) SAFETY FIRST
I get it, this stuff seems boring, but the safety regulations are there to stop you flying your drone where it shouldn’t be. Invading people’s privacy is one thing. But ending up in occupied airspace in the path of vehicles that should be there is potentially catastrophic.
The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) published the UK drone code to avoid exactly this kind of incident. Stay below 400ft (120m), keep your drone in sight at all times, stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property, and never fly near aircraft.
Extra laws come into play if you’re using a camera on your drone, or flying a quadcopter that weighs more than 7kg. Follow these rules and you can enjoy flying responsibly! Because the CAA state that you are fully responsible for your drone and any incidents it causes.
Don’t fly near airports or airfields
Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
Observe your drone at all times — stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
Never fly near aircraft
Photo tip: angle your drone’s gimbal down and find intriguing symmetry and shapes in the landscape
3) AVOIDING OTHER AIRMEN
Here’s a new acronym to pull out at parties: ‘NOTAM’. A NOTAM, short for ‘Notice to Airmen’ (or Airwomen!), is more or less a pilot’s way of marking their territory. Before flying, check the NOTAM map to ensure no other planned flights are occurring in your area.
You might think, “but what if I drive a fair distance to fly my drone only to check the NOTAM system upon arrival and discover I won’t be able to fly?” Very possible. First, check before you leave, to minimise the risk of a wasted journey. But check when you reach your destination, too, because new NOTAMs may have appeared. You’ll get used to it! Before long, seeing a NOTAM, shrugging, and finding a different flight spot will be second nature.
NOTAMs cover everything from parachute drops to air displays. Do you want your drone slicing into a paraglider? No you don’t! So use notaminfo.com/ukmap to check live NOTAM info and see if the coast is clear.
4) CHECK IT, DON’T WRECK IT
When you’ve read the instructions, learned the safety stuff, and got a grasp of the NOTAM system, the next step is actually making sure your drone is in good condition to fly.
For the SD card, you’ll want something that can write fast. The majority of modern drones shoot 4K footage, a quality of video many outdated cards won’t handle.
For the battery, consider investing in extras if you think you want to fly longer. Always be aware that the colder it is, the less effective and long-lasting each battery will be. That’s true not just of the drone, but of any controller or phone you’re using to fly.
Before taking off, consider the obvious — are you in a space that’s open enough to use as a launch area, with few obstacles? Don’t take flight from beneath a tree!
These things seem simple, but I can’t skim over them — at Southsea Castle one time, I saw a young boy flying with his family, and he crashed his drone into another child!
5) FLYING INDOORS
You tore the wrapping off a Christmas present, and it’s a brand new drone! Excitement overwhelms you, and you get the brilliant, unprecedented idea to take an ugly Christmas sweater picture with the family around the Christmas tree. Using your drone.
Don’t! Take the ugly Christmas sweater picture somewhere outside, in an open space, because regulations make no distinction between flights made indoors or in the open. All safety criteria continue to apply.
How about larger indoor spaces, with distanced walls and heightened ceilings?
Regardless of the size of the space, certain hazard factors are heavily mitigated by the fact that the aircraft is flying in an enclosed environment, and access to the venue can be controlled.
If you’re flying a drone indoors, people within the building, and anyone who may be exposed to a hazard by the flight, will be under your responsibility. It’s recommended that if you have to fly indoors, you take the right precautions, like safety netting or using a tethered drone.
However! If the drone in question is a small, light, ‘toy’ drone, it’ll generally not be regarded as having the same safety implications as for larger drones used outdoors.
6) GETTING PAID!
The CAA I’ve been referring to throughout this post is the Civil Aviation Authority, and they’re in charge and control of all aspects of unmanned aircraft flights in Britain. As a professional commercial company, we went to the CAA to get training, certification, and licensing.
If you’re a hobbyist, you can’t legally pursue commercial ventures using your drone. You’ll likely look at our Instagram and think, “these guys have a great time turning flying drones into an income, I want a slice of that pie!”
But, as you can probably imagine, there’s a lot of ‘official’ stuff you don’t see, like pre-flight checks and post-flight paperwork. The more you try to fly commercially without a licence, the more you’ll be accountable for when it catches up with you.
The CAA have a very clear definition for what exactly a commercial operation is:
“Any operation of an aircraft other than for public transport, which is available to the public or which, when not made available to the public, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator, in return for renumeration or other valuable consideration.”
The key words here are “any operation of an aircraft in return for renumeration or other valuable consideration.” So, if you want to turn drone flying into a business, research the CAA, read the drone code, learn drone instructions, and pursue the legally-required training and licensing.
Photo tip: SHOOT EARLY IN THE MORNING OR DURING SUNDOWN TO CAPTURE BEAUTIFUL LONG SHADOWS
7) THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
I’d strongly recommend using the application and/or controller that shipped with your drone, rather than trying to modify it in any way, so you can continue flying safely and responsibly. Additionally, however, there are a number of other brilliant apps worth checking out to extend the creativity!
This app helps you decide whether it’s safe to fly, providing weather forecast and advice on whether conditions are suitable for drones.
An app which assists you with flight planning, enabling you to check for Notifications to Airmen (NOTAMs), mentioned above.
A map app (mapp?) that enables you to measure distances from a satellite images, confirming distances to people and buildings.
A sleek photo editing app with professional tools and a stunning selection of filters based on detailed research into old analog film.