In the past decade, we have seen more flying machines take to the air – from toy quadcopters to large industrial drones – and these are changing many aspects of life, from sports and entertainment to safety inspections and deliveries.
Big name courier companies now use remote aircraft to deliver goods, weddings are often filmed using overhead camera drones, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) keep tabs on livestock and crops across the countryside.
As well as filming sports events, drones can be used in sport themselves. For example, you can race through courses using a first-person-view headset that effectively places you inside the ‘cockpit’ – much like a computer game.
Indeed, flying through the air with a bird’s eye view of the world would have only been for remote control enthusiasts a few years ago, but now everybody with the funds to buy a drone and a camera can get involved.
While the far-reaching implications and applications of drone use is yet to be seen, the future holds much promise. For example, drones that carry medical supplies to remote regions or act as wifi hotspots for emergency services in disaster zones.
Since 2010, when they flew onto the market, drones have rapidly increased in popularity, and the laws that relate to flying an unmanned craft were drawn up to keep up with demand. Yet quite a few people still don’t know about this legislation.
If you use a drone in a commercial sense, you will need to pass a test to prove you have the skill it takes to pilot a heavier craft (over 2kg), or operate a camera drone.
Any craft over 250 grams needs to be registered and anyone using one must have passed a competence test.
The government is also looking at creating ‘geo-fencing’ around no-fly zones, such as airports or prisons. This would see drones pre-programmed not to fly into these zones.
Anyone caught flying a drone dangerously or recklessly faces up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine. These penalties have been prompted by an increase in near-misses with commercial aircraft.
The rules relate to any type of drone, from Christmas presents to the larger commercial ones used by companies such as Amazon.
Plane-drone: this fixed-wing drone has a longer range and acts more like a remote controlled plane than a drone. The launch and landing needs much more space than a rotor drone, and they can’t hover.
Helicopter-drone: a miniature helicopter, this drone has one single-rotor on the top and a tail rotor for control. They are difficult to fly and can be quite dangerous as the blades can cause much more damage.
Racing-drone: normally a lightweight version of either a quad or hexacopter, the racing drone is built for speed – they can reach 50-60 mph.
Quadcopter-drone: easy to fly and very stable, quadcopters are also normally the cheapest option as they are fairly easy to make with durable materials.
Hexacopter-drone: similar to the quadcopter but with six rotors, making for more powerful machines that can carry more weight. But they cost more to produce and can be expensive for a hobbyist.
Octocopter-drone: eight rotors means more power and manoeuvrability than other drones, and they can carry a large payload. However, it also means a big increase in price, and they have a low battery lifespan.
Technically, everyone with a drone needs to have personal liability insurance, so if your drone crashes into someone’s house or into a crowd, you have cover if a claim is successfully made against you.
However, not many people have this or are unaware of its necessity – but if you can imagine a 10kg weight falling 200 metres or more out of the sky, the amount of damage it could cause would be catastrophic.
Even the best pilots in the world make mistakes, or a malfunctioning battery or faulty rotor blade could cause your drone to crash and you could have to pay thousands of pounds.
Your drone itself might be covered for damage or theft by your home insurance, but it is worth checking the small print, rather than assuming you’re covered. A lot of companies have now removed drones from their home insurance policies, or exclude damage caused by drones.
To insure a drone you will usually have to seek out specialist insurance for unmanned vehicles. These companies will insure the drone itself for damage, theft or loss, plus liability insurance for third party damage. So if you were to crash into a house or worse, you would be covered for damages and legal costs.
These policies are normally quite expensive, as they are aimed at the more professional drone operator – with expensive cameras and other equipment attached – so it might be worth looking into other options.
One of these options could be joining a ‘flying club’ such as the British Model Flying Association (BMFA) that will insure your drone or quadcopter for up to £25 million of civil liability cover, so long as you pay an annual membership fee of £38. Plus, you could end up meeting people who love flying as much as you do.
Drones are here to stay, so if you have one, it’s best to make sure yours is covered.