If you’re planning on buying a drone – or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) – it’s worth knowing the rules so that you can keep safe and stay within the law.
Drones were originally developed for military and commercial use. But their popularity has quickly spread – it’s not uncommon to see them being flown over public parks on weekend afternoons.
But now there's concern about the possibility of aviation catastrophes arising out of collisions between drones and aeroplanes.
You can now buy a drone for as little as £15, opening up the market to more consumers. But you can also spend several thousand pounds for professional quality versions.
The growing popularity of drones, as well as several incidents involving UAVs, has called into question the laws governing these devices.
Just this month, for example, a private drone crashed into a passenger jet coming into land at Heathrow airport. The potential for catastrophe is all too apparent although, on this occasion, the plane was able to land without incident.
Anyone who wants to take to the skies should therefore be aware of the law and check out their insurance.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) governs the use of drones in the UK and warns that even small UAVs can be a hazard if they are flying close to people or property.
You don’t need permission from the CAA to fly a drone as long as you meet the following conditions:
- the drone is less than 20kg (known as a small unmanned aircraft)
- it’s being flown within a direct unaided line of sight
- it’s away from people, property and congested areas
- and there is no payment for the flight.
This adds up to most people who fly drones as a hobby not needing to seek permission from the CAA.
Rules and regulations
You while you might not need actually need permission to fly a drone, you must still stick to the rules, which state:
- you should be able to see your drone at all times
- it should not fly higher than 400 feet (top-of-the-range models can easily ascend to several thousand feet)
- it must be kept away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields
- if your drone is fitted with a camera, it must not be flown within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures or over congested areas or large gatherings, such as concerts and sports events.
You, as the person operating the drone, are legally responsible for the safe operation of the device, and you could be prosecuted if you flout the rules.
The same would apply if you, as an adult, allowed a child to operate the device.
But accidents can and do happen. You might be following the law to the letter, but if your drone malfunctions or the battery goes flat, it could swiftly turn from a high-tech gadget into an airborne weapon.
A drone falling from the sky has been likened to an iron being thrown at a passer-by at 50mph… except that the drones also have unguarded rotor blades. Ouch!
That’s why you should think about insurance. Drone insurance is not compulsory, but if your drone fell from the sky injuring a passerby or damaging their property, you could be liable – and it could be expensive.
You could also get into trouble under data protection, privacy or harassment laws, especially if your drone has a camera fitted.
You, as the person operating the drone, are legally responsible for the safe operation of the device, and you could be prosecuted if you flout the rules
Then there’s the drone itself. Could you afford to replace the device if it was lost, damaged or stolen?
It’s worth checking your home contents insurance to see if a drone would be covered.
Many policies exclude liability resulting from the use of motorised vehicles and aircraft. So, if you lost control of your drone and it injured a passerby, you would not be covered.
There might also be restrictions on the use of the drone away from home, as well as strict security requirements. For example, you might not be able to claim for theft if you kept your drone in a shed or garage.
The alternative is to take out specialist drone insurance – and more policies are coming onto the market.
A typical policy includes public liability insurance up to £10m, European cover, full insurance while in flight, cover for operating at high-risk premises and loss or damage to the drone and associated equipment.
As always, though, you should read the small print carefully. Remember, too, that your insurance will only pay out if you operate your drone within the law.
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