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.

Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.