Drones and the law
I think if I were to be 14 again, the prospect of finding a drone at the foot of my bed on Christmas day
would be one of unparalleled excitement. As the cost of these devices comes down, the attraction of these items as a Christmas present is unquestionable. However, it is important that both the buyer and the recipient of these devices are aware that their use involves potential dangers and responsibilities.
What are drones?
‘Drone’ refers to any object that can be flown without a human pilot. They can range from armed
technologies used in military operations to smaller gadgets that can be purchased by members of
the public. The latter category is the focus of this article. These items can be controlled remotely and
may also be attached to a camera which provides a live-feed to the controller. They allow for
educational, professional and leisure purposes. Various models are available which vary in size,
speed, range and price.
Whilst the camera attached to a drone lead to considerable creative fun, the next-door neighbours
might not be over joyed at Johnny flying his drone outside their bathroom window. It should
perhaps go without saying that the use of these devices to the detriment of another person’s
privacy is likely to illicit unwelcome response and the possibility of legal action.
Threat to aircraft
Drones become a problem when they interfere with other objects using the same airspace. They can
present a problem for both military and civilian aircraft. Despite their relatively small size a collision
could have disastrous consequences. Such incidents are more likely to happen when drones are
flown too high or too close to areas where aircraft are taking off and landing frequently. As the
drones become more popular, reports of near misses are growing too.
What are the rules?
If you have bought a drone for personal use, then you have some responsibilities relating to your use
of that drone. Breaching these duties can result in prosecution. It is advisable to consult the Civilian
Aviation Authority Air Navigation Order 2016, specifically Articles 94, 95 and 241. You can download
the ‘Drone Code’ from the website dronesafe.uk. You must understand your essential duties as a
drone owner, many of which are common sense:
- know how to fly your drone safely, and do so within the law
- understand that the operator is legally responsible for every flight
- keep your drone in sight at all times – stay below 400ft
- don’t fly your drone over a congested area
- never fly within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or building not under your control
- ensure any images you obtain using the drone do not break privacy laws
- avoid collisions – you should never fly a drone near an airport or close to aircraft.
It is a criminal offence to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight. If you break the rules, you could
threaten life and also face prosecution, in some cases resulting in imprisonment or a substantial fine.
Are there extra rules when using drones for commercial purposes?
If you want to use a drone for commercial purposes, for example as an estate agent to take aerial
video of properties for sale, then permission must be sought from the Civilian Aviation Authority. It
is also expected that you will attend an accredited course which will test your knowledge of and
competence with drones.
What about cross-overs into the military’s use of drones?
Any drone use completed for the Ministry of Defence is regulated by the Military Aviation Authority.
Tasks such as surveys at height, photography and multimedia activities are covered by these
provisions, and one should look at Regulatory Articles 1600, 2320 and 2321 for specific
The bottom line
Drones can be fun and useful but come with their fair share of responsibilities. If you follow the
principles highlighted above, you will be much less likely to fall foul of the rules and regulations
governing this exciting new technology. If buying as a present for a child, make sure that you know
the rules so that you can impart them to the lucky recipient.