Drones – the new commercial eye in the sky

Rebecca Palmer, Prettys

Rebecca Palmer, Prettys - Credit: Archant

As the use of drones is increasing, Rebecca Palmer, senior associate at Prettys Solicitors explores the legal landscape around their use.

An Anglian Water thermal-imaging leak detecting drone takes to the air

An Anglian Water thermal-imaging leak detecting drone takes to the air - Credit: Archant

In no more than five years, the commercial drone industry has, for want of a better term, “taken off” and as of July this year, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has approved over 3,000 commercial drone operators.

For many businesses harnessing the benefits of drone usage has become a cost effective and safe tool, especially in situations that could be hazardous to people.

For example, in agriculture, drones can be used for crop monitoring and dusting. In the construction industry they can be used for site surveys or building inspections. In the media industry, drones’ cameras can capture unique footage from otherwise inaccessible angles. Drones are also being trialled, along with other autonomous vehicles, for the delivery of goods, most notably by Amazon.

As drones become easier to acquire and use, it is important that businesses understand the current legal landscape since the use of drones straddles at least three distinct areas of the law: (1) aviation law; (2) trespass and nuisance; and (3) privacy and data protection.


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There are a number of practical steps businesses can take to ensure they are using drones correctly within the parameters of the law.

For businesses who only use drones occasionally, it is likely to be most efficient to engage a contractor to provide the drone-related services on their behalf. The contractor is likely to be more familiar with the relevant laws, possess the relevant license and be in a better position to ensure that drones are used safely and legally.

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When choosing a drone contractor, businesses should check: that the contractor is listed on the CAA’s website as an approved operator; that the proposed work is within the scope of the permission granted by the CAA; and that the contractor holds appropriate insurance.

To assist in managing the legal risks, businesses should also:

• gain permission from the owners of the land over which the drone will fly and of which the drone will take pictures

• ensure that the relevant people are made aware of filming

• only record footage relevant to the proper use of the drone and

• store data in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation.

Following these simple steps means that businesses will be well on the way to ensuring that they are using drones productively, safely and legally.

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