How to Use Drones Legally

The quick rise in drones for sale everywhere from online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay to offline drone retailers, has meant that the aviation authorities such as the FAA in the USA and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK haven’t yet caught up with their regulations.

Keeping that in mind, I have tried to put together a quick guide on the ‘moral’ use of drones; in other words, without breaking any unwritten rules, since other than some basic generic rules, there aren’t any aimed specifically at quads and amateur drones.

Other countries though, for example Spain have now published a document containing a temporary set of regulations for safe drone flying. They do emphasize that these should be taken more as guidelines rather than followed exactly.

UK Drone Regulations

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for setting out the rules on drone flying in the UK. The CAA’s basic rules refer to UAVs in general, but in this case it is a term that can be used interchangeably with ‘drones’:FAA

  1. The drone must be within line of sight at all times – 500 metres away and 250 metres high. This rule applies even if live streaming is provided straight to your phone. No exceptions to the rule
  2. You must not fly a drone within 50 metres of any vehicle or building that is not owned by you. You may also not fly within 150 metres of any area congested with cars or with more than 1,000 people. You must also stay at least 30 metres away from any individual that is not yourself
  3. Any drones that have a camera that is recording onboard are subject to surveillance rules and must keep at least 50 metres away from any individuals
  4. Drones may also not be used for any commercial purposes, defined as an activity for which the owner of the drone has any kind of financial benefit.

Any exemption from these rules must be pre-approved by the CAA in writing. Do also keep in mind that the Data Protection Act 1998 applies to any pictures/ videos obtained of any individual residing in the United Kingdom.

USA Drone Regulations

The rules for any unmanned vehicle in the US are patchy at best. The FAA is however working towards coming up with a robust set of regulations by the end of 2015. In the meantime, here is a set of common sense rules and guidelines you can follow to keep out of trouble:

  1. Commercial activities of any sort are a no no. They have recently voted to completely ground Amazon Prime Air’s fleet of drones that were intended to be used for delivery of Amazon parcels in less than 30 minutes. There were also several other accusations for breaking this rules, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney who was accused of breaking the rules when he used a drone to take a wedding video last month. You may also not use a drone to take photographs of your property if your intention is to use them when selling your house
  2. The drone must be kept within line of sight – not surprisingly, similar to the CAA guidelines listed above. This counts as being no higher than 400 feet above soil.
  3. You may not fly an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone close to an airport or close to another vehicle. In fact, just last week two men were arrested for flying a drone close to a police helicopter whilst it was in the sky above New York.

So what if I break the rules?

Well, first of all, these are only guidelines, not a specific set of rules. However, as you’ve seen above, you can get arrested if others deem that you may have endangered another human being’s life. Furthermore, a drone user in the UK was cautioned for selling drone pictures of a fire that broke out in the country side. In conclusion, most of the guidelines are common sense.

If you are flying a drone and have any sense of suspicion that you’re doing something you shouldn’t, then you’re probably right. Keep safe.

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