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Drones And Licensing...

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These days with so many drones about, the novelty amongst people is starting to fall by the wayside.

People can go down to a hobby shop or online to buy a drone. In the box with the drone normally comes a leaflet stating the basics of drone law. Most people drag the machine out of the box, ignoring the leaflets and instructions, and go fly it... often crashing at the first go. Scarily enough, around only 36% of all pilots (including the professionals) know what the rules for flying drones are! Currently, these hobbyists do not need a flying license in the UK, however a mandatory one-day course to teach them the rules would give them no excuses that they did not know (a good idea).

Drone registration
The USA introduced a compulsory system where all drones must be registered with the FAA and if you don't, it's an offence. Recently though, that has come under attack through the courts. Pilots in China will have to register their real names with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) online from June 1. Registration of drones makes sense. Think of cars on the road today; if they were not registered, the roads would be chaos. Offenders would be untraceable – yet that's the situation we have in the air at the moment. Network Rail is forever recovering drones off the Forth Bridge, that have crashed into the structure.

Pilot Licensing
Commercial pilots in the UK have to be examined in the rules, take a practical flying test, write a flying operations manual, get approved insurance and then get a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) licence from the CAA. Unlike when you get your driving licence, this is not transferable to other countries, unfortunately. This is being worked on by EASA (the European-wide body), though as all things like it, it will take (lots of) time. A PfCO shows that the pilot has passed a set quality standard and is approved to work; this costs a lot of money. To employ an unlicensed pilot is illegal, undermines the whole system with respect to safety and the professional livelihoods of commercial pilots. They are also not insured, should something go wrong and major damage occurs.

Looking for a commercial pilot
So, you are the client and you need some aerial photography done... There are several things you should look out for so that you don't get a "poorer deal".

Photographic/Filming experience?
• Many pilots have come into flying without much photographic experience and it can show in the quality of the photos and the footage that they have filmed. Check their website to see their past work.
• Make sure they are members of a trade association like ARPAS-UK (
• They should give you a quality risk assessment using the likes of Google Earth and a written out risk assessment form every time. (One client wanted to buy his own drone until he saw my risk assessments – it was so complex so he gave up on the idea of purchasing one!). Risk assessments demonstrate the pilot's knowledge.
• Quality imagery comes at a cost – many pilots are trying to compete on the lowest cost. That does not benefit anyone and it won't give you a quality product; you don't go down to a 5-star hotel expecting to pay budget hotel prices.

So, there is a lot more to flying than just picking up a drone, and if you want to know more talk to the author, Thomas Haywood. (

Image: Belhaven Bay, Dunbar, East Lothian, at sunset from the air.

This article is also available to read in the latest edition of Broadcast film & Video here, page 40.

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