Drones & the Law

Drones & the Law

Flying a drone commercially – are they doing it legally?

Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA’s) are now widely available for commercial use. More popularly known as drones, just like many other devices, they can cause injury or damage if they are not used responsibly and so are subject to specific safety rules relating to the way they are operated, which are underpinned by UK law.

What is classed as flying commercially?

Any flight by a Small Unmanned Aircraft which is in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.

What qualification should the pilot have?

A pilot should have a Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO). A PfCO is essentially a drone ‘license’. License is in inverted commas because it’s not actually a license, it’s a permission. UK permissions are granted through undertaking a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) drone training course from a CAA approved trainer. The course will be followed by a practical and theory test.

In order to obtain a PfCO the pilot must then provide evidence of completing the course and exams and to the CAA along with a comprehensive Operations Manual which is effectively a contract between the pilot and the CAA outlining how the pilot intends to conduct flights safely.

The PfCO allows a drone operator to use a Small, Unmanned Aircraft. This (SUA) must weigh under 20KG and can be used for commercial projects

Does the pilot need insurance?

Yes, the pilot requires very specific insurance that complies with Regulation (EC) 785/2004 as required by the CAA.

Can a pilot with a PfCO fly anywhere?

Absolutely not, there are a number of rules and regulations but here are the key ones which often get ignored:

  • The drone should always be flown within visual line of sight
  • The aircraft should always be flown lower than 400ft (121m) and within 1640ft (500m)
  • The aircraft should be flown within the manufacturers instructions, for example; if the maximum suggested wind speed is 10 m/s (22mph) then it should not be flown in winds exceeding that
  • Should not be flown within 150ft (50m) of a person, vehicle, vessel or structure that’s not under the control of the pilot
  • Should stay at least 150ft (50m) away from built up and congested areas and never fly over them
  • Never take off or land within 100ft (30m) of a person

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