So many people are enjoying flying drones as a hobby now, along with those using them commercially, that they are an increasingly common sight in our skies.
However, negative press coverage, especially around the Christmas time Gatwick incident, means that people can be feeling very suspicious if they see one over or around their property.
While this is understandable, the message here from DSR is that if you see a drone in the sky, don’t automatically assume that it is up to no good. There are hundreds of safe and legal drone ops out there producing stunning images and carrying out vital inspection work. Likewise, there are many hobbyists enjoying their leisure time both safely and legally. So the chances are that, although you can see the craft, it poses no danger to you and is probably filming something completely different.
The part of aviation law that applies (under most circumstances) that a drone must stay 50m away from a person, place, vessel or structure that doesn’t fall under the pilot’s control. So if you haven’t been briefed that a drone flight will be taking place and drone is less than 50m away from you, then law might well be broken. We’ll come to what you should do about that a little later. However, this does mean that a drone can be above your property if it is more than 50m away or high -strange as it seems, no-one actually owns the airspace above this point and although traffic and usage is regulated by the CAA, people with the relevant permissions can use their craft there.
The part of privacy law that applies is that you are entitled to not be photographed or filmed in any place where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. So if you are on private property, in your back garden for example, then this would apply. The privacy aspect is a little more complicated to deal with as a drone may be quite legally entitled to fly at 60m over your property but, as you can’t easily see where the camera is pointed, it is hard to tell whether you are being filmed. It’s more than likely that the camera is pointing in a completely different direction but if you feel or know that images of your and / or your property are being used without your permission then you should contact the drone operator or the police if this fails.
What to Do
So when it comes to finding out what is going on with a drone local to you, you have two main options that we recommend…
- Speak to the Pilot. If you can see the pilot, just go and have a chat. It’s important that you wait to do this until the drone is on the ground as it’s both illegal and potentially dangerous to engage with a pilot while they are flying. When you can see that the craft is landed, most operators will be more than happy to let you know all about what’s going on. If it’s a commercial operator (and certainly if it’s a DSR member) they wont’ be breaking any laws – their business depends on it. Most hobbyists will also be flying in accordance with the Drone Code and be more than happy to talk things over with you.
- Contact the Police. If you can’t see the pilot or don’t want to approach them, then call 101 – the non-emergency police number. Commercial drone pilots will normally have informed authorities of their flights especially in sensitive areas such as near airports or other protected public buildings, so there is a good chance that the police will already have the details and be able to reassure you. If that’s not the case then they will be able to take all the relevant details to allow them to investigate further if required.
What Not to Do
It goes without saying really, but it is illegal to interfere with a craft in any way or try to bring it down. Doing so carries a potential prison sentence and of course it would also be incredibly dangerous. Likewise, as mentioned earlier, it’s also illegal and dangerous to engage with a pilot while they are flying. If you’d like to speak with them, then wait until the craft is on the ground, the propellors and have stopped and they have indicated that it is safe for you to approach.
Despite the negative press and social media coverage, the vast majority of pilots are operating safely and legally both in terms of where they are flying and what they are filming. In the case of commercial operators, their business depends upon it and they will be happy to allay any concerns you have. It is not in their interests to waste valuable batteries and flight time filming anything that isn’t part of their brief so it’s really unlikely that you were in their viewfinder. They are helping to create part of a brand new industry that will be worth millions to the UK economy over the coming years!
Steve Fisher – Feb 2019