The use of drones in the UK is rapidly increasing. Construction companies use drones to survey sites, local authorities use them to assist with planning applications and the retail sector will no doubt be revolutionised by aerial delivery. There is even a suggestion that drone visits will replace site viewings by 2025.
Operators must be particularly wary when flying over land they don’t own. Equally, landowners should be aware of their airspace and property rights. Regulation breaches, aerial trespass and nuisance claims, impact property damage (with related buildings insurance claims) and data protection infringement are all potentially relevant.
Aviation regulations differentiate drones by weight. Small drones (under 20kg) must be operated with direct and unaided visual contact at all times. For drones weighing between 20–150kg, both airworthiness approval and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) registration are required. Drones over 150kg fall within the remit of the European Safety Agency while drones weighing anything below 150kg are regulated by the CAA.
While a drone operator doesn’t require a licence, CAA permission is required to fly a drone for “aerial work”, which broadly includes surveillance, data gathering, or flying within 50 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not controlled by the drone operator. Breach of the aviation regulations is a criminal offence and the CAA has successfully brought prosecutions in respect of drones.
We watch with interest to see how the law develops in months to come (particularly as Brexit plays out, given that much of the aviation framework is governed by EU law). Ultimately, a balance will need to be struck between reassuring the public that security, property and privacy are protected without overregulation.
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