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CAA Regulations – Evolution and Revolution

The world of aviation is facing a brand new challenge in the form of drone operators.  Although currently much of the same aviation law applies to the pilot of a drone as much as to the pilot of a jet, it has to be recognised that UAVs have their own set of challenges and requirements.

At this point in the industry’s development, commercial operators will recognise that the world of SUA legislation is in a state of near constant change as the various regulators grapple with an evolving technology and how it applies to a new cohort of aviators.

The Air Navigation Order has grown around a history of manned aviation where the clear need for safety is well understood by those involved.  After all, if you are likely to get killed or badly injured in an accident it is in your interest to ensure that accident doesn’t happen.

Remote piloting can be seen as different as the operator is very unlikely to be hurt in an incident while others, either in the air or on the ground, could be.

However, one look at the professional drone operator forums will indicate that  a great deal of work is required to ensure that all operator have the same understanding of the ANO rules.  Indeed there are some that seem to see the wording as a loophole hunting exercise and it is difficult to know who an operator can turn to for advice that they can trust.

Recently, Drone Safe Register has been the source of some sound advice around the wording of the PfCO and has foreseen a change to the wording of the document itself.  The opportunity of “BVLOS” flight using a standard PfCO to fly behind buildings and other large structures, or even to extend flights from 500m to 1000m using a spotter was being touted as possible by some operators.  DSR’s interpretation of the clause was that it simply allowed effective, safe “FPV” flight in a commercial context, an interpretation that has been confirmed by CAA.  Unfortunately, because of misinterpretation misuse by a few bad actors, the clause has been withdrawn while the CAA consider the safe reintroduction of the “FPV clause”, although almost certainly under different wording.

Similar, but more worryingly, interpretations are being placed on the phrase “organised assembly” to only mean events (and associated crowds) that are ticketed.  Under this interpretation, pilots feel they have free reign to fly well within the usual 150m clearance at events that do not have an official entry ticket attached to them.  Whether a judge, following an accident, would find in favour of an operator following this tight interpretation remains to be seen however we believe that it would be a tough position to justify.  The “ticketing” interpretation doesn’t argue away the readily understood concept of “self-organisation” or “spontaneous order” which, together with a very clear spirit of safety built into the ANO could leave an operator with some big questions to answer.

The CAA recognises that some operators require clearer statements than others in order to operate safely and are currently working to provide additional guidance in this area.  Meanwhile, our members can rely on sound advice from Drone Safe Register before changes occur.