Make sure you know the rules, advises Simon ClaytonRadio-controlled aircraft aren’t a new thing by any means, but, lately, drones seem to have captured the public interest like nothing we’ve seen before in this field. Such is the explosion of interest that the UK’s first consumer drone event, UK Drone Show 2015, is being held at the NEC in Birmingham in December 2015.
Some of this interest in the latest selection of drones stems from their advanced electronics. They are gyro-stabilised, which means they aren’t as hard to fly – but don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean they are easy to fly either.
The problem is that anyone can wander into a local hobby store or go online and buy a drone off the shelf with no questions asked and, often, with no advice given. This means that they are left unaware of the legal aspects of flying these devices as well as the significant potential dangers, which have caused the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to introduce new regulations.
For example, drones being operated for commercial reasons now have to have a certified pilot and a flight plan has to be filed with the CAA.
For hobbyists, it is illegal to fly over congested areas, such as streets, and no drone should fly within 50 metres of a person, vehicle, building or structure. It should also go without saying that airports and airfields are definite no-go areas.
Additionally, many of these drones now have high resolution cameras attached and any images obtained by the aircraft could breach privacy laws.
Alongside these rules, operators using drones commercially without the correct and legally required CAA permission, pilot licence and/or insurances could face prosecution. In the UK recently, a man was fined more than £4,000 for flying and crashing his drone near a nuclear shipyard.
Once all the above regulations have been taken into consideration, drones do actually open up all sorts of possibilities for filming and viewing things that have previously been impossible, such as amongst firework displays But, it is harder than you think. In an ironic segment of Fox & Friends in February, Popular Science’s Dave Mosher demonstrated the safety aspects of flying a drone before promptly crashing the device into a cameraman.
Thankfully Mr Mosher had propeller guards on the drone or it could have been far worse. Much like the TGI Friday incident in New York, which saw a photo-journalist left with a bloody wound thanks to a mistletoe-carrying drone – a gimmick that worked wonders.
Occurrences like these highlight just how dangerous and difficult it is to control drones. Too many people are oblivious to the legalities and we can be faced with the danger of a situation where they think they can just buy a drone and use it at an event.
That’s not to say that this technology doesn’t have its uses. Aerial videography and photography can be used for virtual site inspections, as demonstrated by Freeman for an Omni Hotel Dallas video.
It gave an interesting perspective on meeting rooms, but a similar effect could just as easily have been done with a camera on a stabilised gimbal.
Drones do have a place in the events industry, but, obviously, more for outdoor events where there is much less chance of causing harm.
Filming an event such as the Glastonbury music festival with a drone is also a cheaper alternative than hiring a helicopter and film crew.
So my advice when it comes to drones at events? Read up on the rules, employ experts, keep it outdoors, have operating experience and, if all else fails – duck.