UK CAA underline legal position for sUAS

Perhaps ready for the Parrot AR.drone and Christmas the CAA this week laid out its stall. No less than the head of regulation enforcement Matt Lee was asked for comment on the press release.

Mini unmanned aircraft should fly with caution, says CAA

With the increasing popularity of small, unmanned aircraft (20 kg or less), some of which can now be controlled by Smart Phones, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has today issued advice on using the devices in built-up areas or when in proximity to people, property or vehicles. The CAA said it was important that owners of the aircraft understood the risks they pose, despite their small size, to other airspace users and also to individuals on the ground.

The CAA pointed out that these devices are ‘aircraft’ and are therefore covered by regulations within the Air Navigation Order, which anyone flying them should be aware of. There have been a number of accidents in recent years, some fatal, involving model aircraft, and to avoid similar incidents and risk to third parties, operators of these new generation of unmanned aircraft should take great care when using them. Where such small, unmanned aircraft are fitted with surveillance cameras, they need permission from the CAA to operate within 50 metres of a person, vehicle, vessel or structure (not in control of the person in charge) and when operating over or within 150 metres of any area that is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes or open-air assemblies of more than 1,000 people.

Emergency services, and many commercial operators, are already using small, unmanned aircraft mounted with cameras, but are doing so with the full knowledge and authorisation of the CAA. All such flying is done within set distances from the pilot, who must also be able to clearly see the aircraft at all times to ensure safe operation and the avoidance of collisions.

Matt Lee, Head of Regulation Enforcement at the CAA, said: “Anyone thinking of buying a small, unmanned aircraft should be aware that whilst there is a lot of pleasure in flying one, they are not toys and they must be operated legally. In the wrong hands or used irresponsibly in built-up areas, or, too close to other people or property, they represent a very real safety risk. As well as the danger of being physically hit, there is also the chance of other accidents being caused through distraction, for example, if a car driver was to be surprised by something flying towards him. In the past we have seen people seriously injured or even killed by model aircraft and, now that small, unmanned aircraft are becoming more readily available and simpler to fly, we need to avoid any similar incidents.”

The CAA said it had contacted several manufacturers and distributors to explain the rules for using small, unmanned surveillance aircraft in the UK, as set out in the Air Navigation Order, and asked that this information be passed on to potential and existing customers.

The CAA seem to be warning sUAS operators to play nicely.  No doubt they were concerned when toy retailers Parrot and their AR.drone, sold exclusively in the UK through HMV released their last advertising campaign. The campaign showed the multicopter being flown illegally in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and at other venues in London.

Still from AR Drone marketing campaign.

The campaign has since been withdrawn from YouTube. The Parrot AR.drone is not the only area of concern.

First Person View or FPV flying continues to gain in popularity. Proponents use readily available small video cameras and transmitters mounted in what would be the pilots seat in model aircraft. Then watching the received video on screen or using googles they get a pilots eye view. This practice is entirely legal and the BMFA (British Model Flying Association) has clear guidelines set out. Unfortunately the temptation to go higher and further keeps being just too much for some.

In order to do that the model pilot will be employing transmitting apparatus that is operating at a higher power  than OFCOM allows and normally on frequencies that might cause interference to others.

Not much time spent on YouTube searching the terms FPV and high and you can uncover no end of evidence of flight above 400′ and beyond visual line of sight.

3 comments for “UK CAA underline legal position for sUAS

  1. John
    25 September 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Good horse, for one second you kept me in suspense. I was awaiting that dreaded line, “more policies and regulations coming forward” for those British. Fortunately it did not, just a simple good advice to fly carefully, whew,.. coming from the UK goverment that was very light!

    But don’t panick! Little sheep, always trust your goverment, goverment is good, goverment is good. loool

    Out of joke, good common sense guidelines, but the serious guys (the ones doing this for a living) don’t need more regulations or nonsense advice (are they treating them like children now?). UK, no offense intended, but let me give you a advice, regulate your goverment, again, regulate your goverment like the US once did. Good grief.

  2. 25 September 2010 at 5:51 pm

    No not at all, in fact UK operators are in the fortunate position of being allowed to operate legally! The rules for commercial operation of UAS are sensible and straight forward. I’m sure as the industry matures and the CAA have more data to mine beyond VLOS and higher altitudes will be permitted. I feel sorry for the countries that still have not regulated this activity ;-)

  3. John
    26 September 2010 at 5:40 am

    Yes, that is a big plus considering how the UK lacks a lot of liberty on other basic freedoms (just read the newspapers to know what I mean, lol). But you are right, the US does not even have this yet. I will be happy the day the FAA comes with regulations or at least a word saying “it’s all good, you can go fly now”. Hope it happens soon, meanwhile it’s very frustrating.

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