Walking

Flying Drones

What is a drone?

The term ‘drone’ is used to describe unmanned flying aircraft often carrying data   collection instruments such as cameras.

What is MTOM?

MTOM stands form Maximum Take Off Mass. This is an important measurement because many of the current regulations governing the use of drones distinguish between categories of drone according to weight.

Why is the MTOM important?

The MTOM determines whether or not you will have to comply with Air Regulations.

Do I need permission for aerial work?

A person wishing to operate a drone for non-commercial or hobby purposes within the restrictions of Articles 166 and 167 does not require a specific licence or authorisation. However you must request “permission for aerial work” from the CAA if you plan to either:

  • Fly the aircraft on a commercial basis.
  • Fly a camera/surveillance fitted aircraft within congested areas or closer than the distances listed within Article 167 to people or properties (vehicles, vessels or structures) that are not under your control.

The definition of aerial work is defined as “any purpose….for which an aircraft is flown if valuable consideration is given or promised in respect of the purpose of the flight”. “Valuable consideration” is any profit or benefit you will receive which is more than of a nominal nature.

What is a “congested area”?

A “congested area” is defined as any area in relation to a city, town or settlement that is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes.

Further information can be obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority.

What if I have an accident with my drone?

Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 provides for strict owner or operator liability for surface damage caused by an unmanned aircraft. So in the event of a drone accident causing loss to property or injury to people on the ground, the owner /operator of the drone will be liable to pay compensation to the victim(s) for the loss or injury suffered.

The victim could also pursue compensation for his loss due to your negligence in the same way as would the victim of a car accident. 

In the event of an air to air incident the established principles of aviation law is not to apportion blame on a strict liability basis but to deal with such incidents on the basis of assault.

What if the accident was not my fault because my radio signal suffered interference?

Radio signals are used for communication between a drone’s ground control station and the drone platform and also to transmit data between instruments on the drone such as cameras and the data receiver on the ground.  Unencrypted data links are particularly vulnerable to jamming, interception and manipulation. A drone could be hacked, its data link or live feed intercepted, or the aircraft could be spoofed during flight.

Pilots must take into account the possible reduction in operating range in an urban environment due to the heavy use of communications equipment and other sources of electromagnetic spectrum and the radio frequency interference. You also need to consider mitigation for the consequences of weak or lost GPS signal due to the masking by buildings or the fells along with the general radio frequency saturation level.

It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not lose radio contact with your drone. If you do so and there is an accident, you will be liable for any loss or damage that occurs.

Causing deliberate damage to a third party’s drone or interfering with its communications system may constitute criminal damage.

Do I need insurance?

This will depend on the MTOM of the drone. Regulation (EC) No. 785/2004 requires that all commercial drone operators purchase third party liability insurance.

Persons operating model aircraft hobby drones weighing less than 20kg are not required to have third party liability insurance. However, the British Model Flying Association provides insurance for its members and it is recommended that you have insurance to cover any accident that may occur when you are flying the drone. It is unlikely that your household insurance policy would provide cover for drone use and you will therefore need to seek separate insurance cover.

What about Data Protection and privacy?

There is no specific legislation in European member states on the Data Protection implications of drone use. However the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression are both considered fundamental. The Information Commissioner, the UK Data Protection regulator, has stated that drone use may infringe a citizen’s right to privacy and private life if the drone is used intrusively.

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) protects peoples information privacy but also recognises the importance of freedom of expression aiming to strike a fair balance.

The DPA focuses on an individual’s right to privacy and is concerned with the processing of information from which a living individual can be identified (personal data). The DPA has eight key data protection principles. These principles apply to the processing of all personal data which includes photographs and film.

Do I need to obtain permission from landowners to fly over their land?

It is easy to fly and for a drone to hover over someone’s property. Case law has established that the rights of a property owner are restricted in relation to the airspace above his land to such a height as is necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of his land. This would be a matter of judgement in each case and whether or not there had been an invasion of privacy or an established nuisance would depend upon the frequency of flights, the height of those flights etc.

Based on existing case law, it may be argued that flying a drone above another’s property at heights so as not to interfere with that party’s ordinary use of the land is unlikely to constitute a trespass. In addition to this, photographing of that person’s property on occasion is unlikely to constitute nuisance. Matters do become more complex and less certain however where a drone is flying over another’s property on multiple occasions or even hovering in one place and taking multiple pictures.

The courts have not drawn a line as to what exactly will constitute trespass or nuisance by drones in these instances and therefore best practice is to ensure that the landowner’s permission is obtained.

Drone operators must have permission from the owner of the land where a drone takes off and lands.