Yesterday (2nd July 2017) an unidentified flying object (thought to be a drone) flew over the runway/airspace around Gatwick airport, this lead to a closure of the runways twice, and for a total of 15 minutes. Some flights were diverted to other airports, probably causing chaos for all involved.
The police are investigating as a matter of urgency (I assume).
Source: The Guardian
There are a lot of comments from readers, many asking or even demanding a ban of drones, some require licensing as an alternative. But after reading the comments for about 30 minutes it strikes me that most people are ignorant of drones and drone capabilities.
I assume people hear the word drone and assume voyeurism or will-full ignorance of the dangers and law of flying a drone.
So let’s talk about voyeurism.
Most if not all commercially available drones DO NOT have telephoto lenses, they are usually wide angle lenses designed to capture a large area of scenery. To fly a drone to spy or peer into someone’s window would require flying it very close to the subject, so close that the person(s) would be well aware of the drone due to the rotor noise. It is also illegal to fly within 50ft of a person, but if voyeurism is your thing, then the law isn’t something they’d be concerned about anyway.
Custom built drones are a different matter, for one it takes time, patience, money and determination to build a drone. You could buy a DJI Phantom for a lot less time, energy and money. But then you’re certainly stuck with the camera that comes with it. To build a drone big enough to fly with a digital SLR camera takes a LOT of skill and knowledge. Anyone attempting to do this will almost certainly be aware of the laws regarding drones and flight.
However, a microlight could be piloted by someone with a DLSR, and could use it to spy/perv at someone. Though again this is highly unlikely as a microlight will need controlling to stay in a given area. Then of course there’s the top down view only.
There are probably more voyeurs at a beach than in the sky.
All expensive drones or drones over £300 have geofencing built in, this basically means the drone will not fly in or around airports (5 mile radius), army, navy and airforce bases, nor will they fly over prisons and drop parcels of drugs or phones. However custom built drones can do all these things.
As stated earlier, drones really can’t be used by voyeurs.
A drone is designed to do two things, fly and take video/photo’s, though mostly video.
The law is also very clear on what a drone pilot should not do,.
- Do not fly near restricted airspace, (geofencing prevents this, a drone will not even take off if it’s within this area, and will not fly any farther if you you take off outside and try to fly in.
- Do not fly within 50ft of people
- Do not fly within 150ft of a building (any building at all)
- Always keep line of sight with the drone, if you can’t see it with the naked eye, then it’s too far away.
- Never fly over a crowd of people of 1,000 or more
- Don’t exceed an altitude of 400 ft.
Aside from the first point everything else is within the pilots control, but is difficult for the police to enforce. You can break these restrictions but only if you have a valid drone licence (£1,000+) and permission from the CAA and local authority to do so.
Forcing all drone pilots to have a CAA licence.
This would be costly and difficult to enforce, then add in a registration number and the requirement to change ownership if you sell a drone would put it outside the hands of hobbyists. Also a licence would mean nothing without the police being able to enforce the law, something they struggle with even now. Let’s talk about driving licences, a car is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, in the hands of a person driving within the law, it’s just a tool performing a function.
But why do we have thousands of deaths each year on UK roads? Because people will drive outside the law for usually selfish reasons, or just not care about the law and others around them. So creating a law requiring a piloting test and licence really makes no difference, people will break the law if they have no respect for it.
Then there are toy drones. Drones less than £300, and usually less than £150 are mostly toys, flown usually by kids or immature adults. While lighter and more fragile than their bigger brothers, these drones still come under the same laws. If a law applies to one it applies to all. If you ignore the law flying a £500 drone, then a £150 drone owner is even less likely to care.
There will always be someone who doesn’t care for the law and will do whatever they like, same with anything, cars, HGV’s, coaches, bicycles and drones. That is something you cannot prevent, only prosecute after the fact.