Drones and the law

There is no doubt that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or Drones as they are better known as, are playing an increasingly important role in our lives. Not long ago, we really only associated them with extraordinary military operations in faraway places. But then they got smaller and many more civilian uses became apparent, including survey work for farming businesses.

As with most technology, time has delivered a great decline in both price and scale. Drones can now be purchased for as little as £500 and can be flown via a smart phone. What began as a weapon, became a tool and is now a toy!

Cheap technology does have its advantages, but it also has its downsides. Drones have endangered commercial aircraft, flown contraband into prisons, been used to “monitor” legal activities, scared endangered wildlife and harassed individuals on their own property.

It has been suggested that anybody affected could simply shoot down the offending drone if it is over their property. This is not a recommended course of action as it could easily result in a charge for criminal damage and the loss of your weaponry.

The law surrounding drones is currently evolving along with their usage. At present, there is no requirement to register a drone or as a user provided that the drone weighs less than 20kg and is not intended for commercial use. Heavy drones can only be used in designated “dangerous flying” areas and user registration is administered by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Given that modern drones can weigh less than 1kg, it is a bit of a free for all, although there is a Code of Conduct for drone operators.

Operators must avoid flying drones within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the pilot. You will also need to fly the aircraft “within sight”. This means you can’t go above 400 feet in altitude or further than 500 metres horizontally. If you were wondering about the mixed use of metric and imperial, ask the CAA as it introduced it, not I!

This situation is set to change. The Government has recognised the need for better regulation but is keen not to strangle the sector with red tape. It has announced that soon all drones weighing more than 250g will need to be registered with the CAA. In addition, a new drone safety awareness test means owners will have to prove that they understand UK safety, security and privacy regulations.

So, regulations are trying to keep pace with the technology. In the meantime, don’t be tempted to shoot one down, but do be tempted to see how drone technology could help your business.

If you would like any further information or to discuss any rural related matter, please contact Tom Wills, head of the agriculture & estates department at Sintons.

This article was recently featured in the Darlington & Stockton Times

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