DroneDroning On – Essential takeaways for domestic drone users from new CAA microcraft regulations

August 10, 2018by Joshua Dickinso20

Drones are nothing new. The modern perception might be that drones are a potentially useful tool for deliverin online purchases. They might also be utilised as a method for smuggling contraband into prisons. However, the Kettering Bug drone was actually the focus of considerable development towards the end of the First World War as a means of carrying out aerial assault on the enemy.

This hundred year old ‘recent’ technology has gone mainstream – in addition to delivering the shopping, drones monitor climate change, and perform essential search functions after disasters where it’s simply too dangerous for emergency services to go in without a clear picture. They also cause issues for domestic and commercial flights – and that’s where the new CCA rules come in for recreational drone use too.

What prompted the new regulations?

No single incident has prompted a knee-jerk reaction, but it’s worth noting that the cases of drone near-misses have almost tripled in the two-year period prior to July 2018. To highlight a few cases and issues:

  • In January 2018, an Airbus 319 taking off from Heathrow had a near miss with a drone which “passed directly overhead, with an estimated separation of 20ft
  • Pilots have concerns about near-misses when landing – a time when they really don’t need unexpected distractions
  • In November 2016, again at London, Heathrow, there was a double drone near-miss as an Airbus 320 approached the airport

If you think of the damage a flock, or even a single bird, can do to a jet engine, then it doesn’t require a vivid imagination to envisage what a drone could do. This is especially true when the size of a lot of supposedly “toy” drones, intended for recreational purposes, makes them anything but.

What has changed?

Screenshot from Drone 360 Vision's recent festival promotion

Height and boundary limits for commercial and other airports are the most significant changes. However, critics of the new regulations insist they’re still not enough. Drones can no longer fly above 400 feet, and must keep a distance of one kilometre from airport boundaries, to limit the danger of accidents.

Perhaps most significant is the legislation that drone owners will now have to register. They also have to take a variety of safety tests online to prove that they are aware of their obligations when operating unmanned small aircraft.

And those “small aircraft” really are small – the new laws require the owners of drones as tiny as 250 grams (that’s about the weight of an adult male Syrian hamster, by the way) to register with the Civil Aviation Authority.
It’s also interesting to note that the regulations make no distinction between flights made outdoors, and flights made indoors; the safety rules are the safety rules. Anyone who has ever had an unwanted up close and personal experience with an indoor drone at Tate Modern in London may be pleased to hear this.

What applies to me as a recreational owner?

In short, exercise common sense. The longer version is – obviously – longer, but not much more complex. The important takeaways in addition to the airport regulations that might not be immediately clear are:

  • Flying your drone safely is YOUR responsibility, and you must keep it in sight at all times
  • Endangering people and things includes anything your drone might be carrying – or dropping – and not just the drone
  • There are additional rules and regulations applying to drones fitted with cameras. These require permissions from the CAA – saying that it isn’t switched on just isn’t good enough. Additionally, claiming that “first person” or pilot’s eye view when flying your drone makes it safe to fly out of immediate sight is not acceptable. Again, FPV flights require special permissions.

In conclusion, the recreational drone use community has to work responsibly here and report any perceived instances of drone misuse. It’s worth noting that privacy concerns should be referred to the Information Commissioners Office rather than the CAA, as they don’t deal with anything except safety. Almost anything with an engine is capable of causing damage or injury, and something that takes to the air even more so.

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