The Eye in The Sky: Can I fly? Can I film?

Like any boy with a new toy, I wasn’t going to read, I was going to learn to fly through action. I made straight for the nearest park to make my first flight. I set off early to avoid meeting other people as I wanted the space to make mistakes, primarily without the embarrassment of being see, but also to avoid hitting anyone.

With a couple of flights under my belt, and a few crashes to boot, I thought I’d read up on the regulations here in the UK before I set off on further aerial adventures.

This is the first part in a series I’m writing on learning to fly (and film) with a quadcopter. In future posts, I’ll tackle the ethics, the edits, the successes and of course the failures. But first, the legal.

The legal

First and foremost, I encourage you to spend some time looking at the Civil Aviation Authority website for the most accurate and up to date information. What I present below are my findings from doing just that

If you have a small aircraft, the rules differ depending on whether or not you are receiving ‘_valuable consideration_’ as a result of flying. Most people choose to interpret this as whether or not you are flying for commercial reasons, but the regulations don’t necessarily define ‘valuable consideration’ as being paid.

Also, if you have a camera or other data gathering kit mounted to the aircraft, you are subject to some additional regulations as technically you enter the world of surveillance.

Can I fly?

It’s Complicated

You’ve got yourself a fairly large aircraft there, you need to read up on the regulations as this is pushing the limits of what the CAA deem to be a model.

Small Unmanned Aircraft

The following aren’t allowed without further permission from the CAA:

  • A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
  • The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
  • The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
  • The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work.

Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft

The following aren’t allowed without further permission from the CAA:

  • flying over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
  • flying over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
  • flying within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft;
  • flying within 50 metres of any person (unless the person is in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft); or
  • taking off or landing within 30 metres of any person (unless the person is in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft)

This all sounds reasonable, but when you see the definition of ‘congested area’ you might conclude that your flying options are limited.

‘Congested area’ in relation to a city, town or settlement, means any area which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes;

If anything, I’d expect regulations to be tightened as popularity of unmanned aircraft increases.