Drones were all over this September’s fashion weeks including designer Philip Plein’s show in Milan. Those sitting on the catwalk front row (the FROW) might have loved it but what are the risks involved in operating such machines?

Drones?

Drones are remotely piloted aircraft used traditionally by governments and security forces. In recent years they have been entering into the commercial and retail sector and now, for as little as £25, you too can own your own flying robot. To avoid that £25 escalating to thousands of pounds of court costs and fines, users need get to grip with the law. 

The Law

Articles 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009 (“ANO”) regulate the requirements for flying drones weighing less than 20kg (which most recreational ones do). Generally, these state that:

  • The person in charge of the drone should only fly it if they are reasonably satisfied that the flight can be safely made.
  •  The drone must not endanger anyone or anything, which includes dropping articles/animals – whether or not attached to a parachute – from the aircraft. Whilst no further guidance is given on this one may, in any event, want to think twice before attaching their beloved dog to the top of their £25 drone.
  • The aircraft must be kept within the visual line of sight of the pilot (around 500m horizontally and 400ft vertically).
  • If the drone carries a camera then it must not be flown over or within 150m from congested areas or open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people, or within 50m of vessels, vehicles, building, structures which are not under the control of the pilot, or persons. During take-off and landing, it should not be flown within 30m of any person who is not the person in charge of the drone or under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
  • If the drone is being used commercially for valuable consideration (e.g. you are being paid for photographs captured) then CAA permission is required.
  • If the aircraft weighs over 7kg but less than 20kg (excluding fuel but including any articles installed on it), then it must not fly more than 400ft off the ground or enter particular airspace zones unless appropriate permission has been granted.

Contravening these requirements is a summary only offence pursuant to s.241(6) of the ANO. The maximum statutory sentence is a Level 4 fine.

Those using camera-equipped drones should also bear in mind ancillary obligations such as those contained within the Data Protection Act 1998 and for anyone with drones weighing more than 20kg, more stringent conditions apply.

CAA Prosecutions

The CAA’s stated remit is “to investigate and prosecute breaches of aviation safety rules and some aviation related consumer protection and health and safety requirements. Their proactive approach recently in bringing individuals before the criminal justice system shows that they are not afraid to put that aim into practice.

On 1 April 2014 Robert Knowles was convicted at Barrow-in-Furness Magistrates’ Court of failing to comply with air regulations in the CAA’s first successful private prosecution of a UK individual. Prior to this the only successful action had been against a Lancashire photographer who accepted a caution for using a drone for commercial purposes without permission.

With Knowles, the court heard that on 25 August 2013 his homebuilt model aircraft was found near to a submarine testing facility operated by BAE Systems. The footage found on the drone showed it had flown close to the Jubilee Bridge and had through restricted airspace. Knowles was found to have breached Article 167 of the ANO and Regulation 3(2) of the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying) (Nuclear Installations) Regulations 2007). He was fined £800 and ordered to pay £3,500 in prosecution costs.

On 28 May 2014 the CAA concluded its second successful prosecution when Mark Spencer pleaded guilty at Stafford Magistrates’ Court to two drone offences after his unmanned camera aircraft was found to have flown over Alton Tower’s resort on 9 November 2013. His actions were found to have breached Articles 166(3) (Not maintaining direct, unaided visual contact with a small unmanned aircraft) and Articles 167(1), 167(2)(a) (Flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft over or within 150 metres of any congested area) of the ANO. He was fined £300 with a contribution to prosecution costs of £250.

CPS Prosecutions

Earlier this month Nigel Wilson also fell victim to a drone prosecution, but this time at the hands of the CPS. Wilson was fined £1,800 after pleading guilty to nine offences contrary to sections 166 and 167 of the ANO. This related to him flying his drone over various football stadiums and buildings in England, with some footage later being uploaded onto YouTube. Alongside a contribution of £600 towards prosecution costs, District Judge Purdy at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ordered forfeiture of the drone equipment and two crime prevention orders banning Wilson from purchasing, borrowing or using for any purpose, or encouraging anyone else, a drone.

Play Safe

So no matter how trendy or ‘next season’ recreational drones may appear to be, before you jump on the bandwagon and lead the fashion pack, do your research and don’t fall foul of the law.

For guidance see the Civil Aviation Authority website.