Lead Forensics
Prettys Solicitors Ipswich


Drones and the law

Thanks to technological advances, small unmanned / remotely piloted aircraft (or “drones” as they are more popularly known) are both inexpensive and easily available. Retailers projected a huge increase in drone sales over the Christmas period, and many new pilots will have taken their drone for its first flight over the Christmas break.

However, anyone piloting a drone should be aware of the laws which relate to these aircraft and the liabilities which they can incur if they are not used responsibly. This is not just an academic legal issue; the first prosecutions for illegal drone use in the UK took place last year, and the Telegraph reported before Christmas that home insurers are beginning to exclude liability for drones from their policies as a result of concerns about damage or injury which they may cause.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have put in place specific rules that apply if you fly drones that weigh under 20kg recreationally. The full details of these can be found in Articles 166 and 167 of Air Navigation Order 2009, but the key points are as follows:

One particular point to note is that the more restrictive rules appear to apply if the drone is capable of using a camera, whether or not any camera footage is actually recorded. In an urban or suburban setting this is actually likely to cause issues for anyone piloting a drone on their own property, a point of which many people are unaware.

These basic rules apply to recreational use only. Anyone using a drone for “aerial work” (i.e. where you are being paid for flying the drone) will need CAA permission to do so. This is an area where professional photographers who are using drones for aerial shots will need to be particularly careful. The details of this are outside the scope of this article, but there are various training organisations who can assist in preparing the operations manuals and certification of competence needed to obtain the relevant CAA permissions.

You should also consider the impact of general laws on flying a drone:

If your drone has a camera, you should consider the impact of the Data Protection Act 1998 on the collection of footage using the device. Compliance with the Act requires, among other things, that you only gather and use footage fairly and lawfully. The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance suggests that this would include making it obvious that you are responsible for the drone and that the drone is capable of filming. The guidance also highlights the importance of ensuring that you only record in appropriate locations using the drone – for example, using the drone to film your neighbour’s back garden is obviously likely to infringe their privacy; doing so repeatedly could amount to the offence of harassment.

If you would like more information about the law on drones generally, please see the CAA’s page on flying drones. The authority’s website also contains information on the need for permission to fly drones commercially (for “aerial work”) or outside the limits set out in the Air Navigation Order 2009 and how to apply for such permission.

Michael Booth, Trainee Solicitor, Corporate and commercial. e: mbooth@prettys.co.uk


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