*Original posted displayed in October 2019*
Drone flying is great, I’ve had some amazing times piloting my unmanned aircraft, not only because I find flying therapeutic, but the aerial photography that one can capture at several hundred feet is astonishing. You also meet some characters such as dogs running off with your landing mat thinking it is a giant frisbee, and confident parakeets to name a few.
Nearly one year one from when the UK released further rules regarding drone flying, and the rules seem to be holding, despite rumours that stricter rules are set to be released.
The rules changed in November 2019 which apparently stemmed from the popularity of unmanned aircrafts, and the speculation regarding incidents that had supposedly occurred at Gatwick and Heathrow airports due to drones, not to mention the common questions surrounding privacy.
If you have become the owner of a drone, you need to know the rules around flying.
Drones above 250g need to be registered, which includes an online test, and a fee which transforms into operator and flyer IDs. The operator ID needs to be displayed on the drone, and details available upon request from a person in authority.
The drone code nicely summarises the dos and don’ts of drone flying, such as do not fly too low over crowds, or in places that are no-fly zones.
There are numerous apps, such as Drone Assist, UAV Forecast and if you have a DJI aircraft or a Parrot drone, they have their own operating apps too.
While there is a controversy between drone pilots about the registration, its fee and the test, I took little issue with them. I don’t like adding registration numbers to my drone, I seem to be collecting them the more I travel, but registering my drone means I have nothing to hide. It means I am happy to declare I am a drone pilot and if I accidentally break the rules, then I will take responsibility for that.
Before the registration rules changed last year, the husband and I were two of many submitting evidence to the science and technology committee at the house of commons, in a bid to emphasize the good points of drone flying, and responsible piloting.
I believe that the evidence submitted encouraged the reduction of the registration fee, but it is understandable if you have a fleet of drones and you have to potentially register them all.
We have a small fleet of eight drones, however, only four are over the 250g weight limit for registration so these are the ones that must be registered.
It does not necessarily mean someone is choosing to act sinister if they do not register their drone. It can mean that they don’t agree with having to register their aircrafts, when they have been flying for years without needing to pay a fee. However, the repercussion of not registering could be a fine of £1,000.
When registering your aircraft, make sure you know the weight of the drone with prop guards if you choose to use them. iKopta Dylan on YouTube gives an informative summary on DJI’s Mavic Mini, and how the weight of the aircraft is above 250g with prop guards. The Mini was released with the lead up to the news rules coming into force and designed to be the drone that did not need to be registered weighing just under 250g.
In the last year I have seen an increase in country park and public greenspace websites prohibiting drone flying. Nature reserves are a given, but general country parks are stating that the restriction is because of the disturbance to wildlife – yet they allow dogs to roam free.
Surely a dog jumping on a few geese, which I have seen recently, constitutes a worse disturbance than my drone which is being flown at a safe distance from objects, animals and people?
My husband and I have flown at many large parks, or green open spaces, and our drones have not disrupted the wildlife. Keep in mind that a seagull could take down a drone let alone a goose or a heron, and our main investment drones are DJI Inspire, DJI Mavic Pro, DJI Mavic 2 Pro and a DJI Mavic Air.
Obviously, the last thing we want is to injure any animal, and that is what responsible piloting seeks to avoid. In my experience the bigger problem has always been parakeets, they are very curious and approachable creatures who appear to be outnumbering the other species of birds nowadays in parks. There has been more than one occasion where a flock of parakeets, or a solo pigeon has circled my drone in mid-flight. A tip if this happens to you, either land or ascend higher than the birds, as they will then see the drone as a predator and leave it alone.
Dogs have also provided me with humorous challenges. On one occasion a dog got so excited at the sight of my landing mat he picked it up and ran off with it thinking it was a giant frisbee, followed closely by his frantic owner running after him trying to get it back.
On another occasion, I had landed my drone and was packing up and this gorgeous big fluffy white dog, similar to a husky or Chow but not quite, came up to me and naturally I said “hello” to it because I’m a soppy person when it comes to animals. I was crouching down at the time putting things back into my drone bag, and it came and sat next to me and leant on me to the point I couldn’t move. It was so funny. Of course, at that point I was also looking around to see if its mum and/or dad were about, and they were across the other side of the field.
I felt like one of those wildlife photographers where the seal climbs on top of them when they’re trying to take a photo.
I don’t think dogs find drones or anything like that a problem, nor have I found a massive problem with wildlife in general. I think that perhaps this stigma about “disturbance” has stemmed from a few people seeing drones in flight, while they have been walking and they have been compelled to report it to the council, or air their perhaps unwarranted feelings because they feel they should.
For pilots it seems that the scope of safe-fly zones is becoming limited. The radius around airports have increased in recent years, and more signs are going up. However, the signs often not only point to drones, but also model aircrafts, so there has been more controversy between drone pilots and those that fly model aircrafts.
As a drone pilot, I know that a certain amount of PR must be carried out when flying. People will either want to find out more, or they will find a way to criticise it, and unfortunately negativity seems to be the common default nowadays.
In summary if you want to fly a drone, know the rules, be safe and the fun will come naturally. Also, if you are playing by the rules, then no one will have a substantive cause to complain.