Drone footage can be spectacular. Which is why last week, I spent four days in the illustrious company of Tom and Darren at Heliguy HQ – working towards a PFAW (Permission for Aerial Work).
Upon completion of the course, which includes ground school and a practical exam, I will be licensed by the CAA to undertake commercial aerial work.
As I have some flight experience already, I did originally smirk at the length of the course. I even recall catching myself saying out load ‘how does learning to fly a drone take four days?’
The truth is, it doesn’t. Anyone from the Playstation generation can go out tomorrow, buy, and fly a Phantom 4. It isn’t hard. Especially with the collision avoidance and other safety features that come as standard.
And that’s the problem… What I did discover is that quite often you’ll be breaking the law without knowing.
You see, in the eyes of the law, a drone (or Small Unmanned Aircraft ‘SUA’) is just that – an aircraft. As such, you are subject to the same rules and regulations as a 747 passenger jet. With the same reporting procedure if anything goes wrong.
Some of these regulations limit or even prohibit flights in certain airspaces. As an unmanned aircraft you’re also required to maintain visual line of sight – meaning if you can’t see if, you’re at risk to other people/property/aircraft. In certain areas of the country, you may even find yourself in the flight path of a low flying jet fighter!
So, not looking to entirely deter an amateur enthusiast, how do you stay the right side of the law? Here’s a few top tips of things I picked up over the four days:
- Weight – Is your SUA under 7kg? The CAA will allow you to fly without permissions if so (in the right airspace).
- Distance – Fly only within line of sight under standard permissions, defined by a maximum vertical distance of 400 feet and 500 meters horizontally.
- Proximity – Do not fly over or within 150m of a congested area – e.g. cities, parks, busy beaches.
- People – Do not fly over or within 50m of people not under your control i.e. the public.
- Airspace – Find out which airspace you’re flying in. Is the airspace restricted, dangerous or prohibited? Check on aviation charts to make sure – flying in a prohibited airspace could lane you in prison and with a hefty fine.
- Location – Large areas of water, metal, intense radio activity, or power lines may play havoc with your SUA’s communications. Inexperienced pilots should avoid these areas entirely.
- London – Be aware that in London there are further height restrictions to take into account helicopter routes. You will be limited to 300 feet under helicopter routes.
Taking all that into consideration, it is more than possible for amateur enthusiasts to legally fly their SUAs. It goes without saying to always exercise caution and keep in mind your proximity to people, buildings, and other air users.
Use of footage for showreels, on YouTube, for a film, could all be construed as commercial work and potentially land you in hot water.
So why do you need a permission for aerial work? The reason is simple. The CAA require any commercial operator to prove they are competent to fly, with the correct preparation and safety procedures in place.
This means if any value can be attached to the footage i.e. you’re using it for anything other than showing your friends/family – you will need to show the CAA you are competent to operate. Without this, use of footage for showreels, on YouTube, for a film, could all be construed as commercial work and potentially land you in hot water.
How do you demonstrate competence? If you’d like to explore commercial aerial work, there are a number of CAA approved NQE centres across the UK, although I do highly recommend Heliguy for incredible value.
I hope you’ve found the above useful. This is by no means an exhaustive list of legal/practical considerations – so I do provide this with the caveat of seeking further SUA training. I do hope that the above guide will keep many of you safe and on the right side of the law.
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