Horizon Imaging

Horizon Imaging explains the regulations governing the use of drones for aerial photography in built-up areas

We often get requests from clients to use our versatile drone aerial photography platform for taking aerial photographs in built-up areas. Unfortunately, this is fraught with difficulties – both practical and legal. This post aims to clarify the rules and regulations that surround the use of drones in built-up areas like towns and cities. 
The regulations that govern the use of drones are laid down by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and they are as follows: 
Unless otherwise authorised by the CAA, drones must not be flown: 
  • Outside the hours of daylight 
  •  At a height exceeding 400ft above the ground 
  • Further than 500m from the operator 
  •  Within 150m of any open-air assembly of more than 1000 persons 
  •  Within 50m of any vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the operator 
  •  If permission has not been granted by the landowner of the site used for take-off and landing 
  • For commercial gain unless the operator holds a ‘Permission for Aerial Work’ from the CAA 
  • Unless the operator holds adequate Public Liability Insurance 
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulates all aerial activity in the UK’s airspace – from small radio-controlled drones to full-size airliners. 
The most pertinent requirement here is not flying within 50m of any vessel, vehicle or structure not under the ‘control’ of the operator. This basically means that either the flying area has to be cordoned off to stop people or cars accidentally entering it, or arrangements have to be put in place to ensure anyone entering the area knows exactly what is happening, where the drone will be flying and what to do in an emergency. Also, permission has to be granted by the owners of any property within 50m of the drone flying area before any flying can commence. 
Obtaining these permissions / implementing these cordons is a very time-consuming process, and it often becomes too complicated to warrant undertaking the work (at least not with the drone – our telescopic mast provides an ideal and safe alternative for static photographs). Having said this, if the flying area is entirely under the control of the drone operator, the flying activity can proceed both legally and safely, even in a heavily built-up area. 
At the end of the day, these regulations are put in place for the safety of the public. Even the latest drones are never 100% reliable, and as such, these proximity-based regulations have been created to ensure no-one can ever come to harm, even if the drone were to crash. If a company claims they are able to offer you drone aerial photography services in a built-up area and they cannot provide you with a comprehensive Risk Assessment detailing how they will ensure the flying area is under their control at all times, then they are operating illegally and should be avoided. 
If you have any questions about taking aerial photographs with a drone in built-up areas, please do get in touch and I would be happy to advise you.
David Hogg, Director of Horizon Imaging and our Hexacopter aerial photography drone