I’ve had a change of heart about how I feel about the law and operating a drone. A few months ago, I would have done a basic risk assessment and then flown, even if it was illegal. These days, I will only fly if I can operate entirely within the law. In this article, I’ll explain why.
The below video has proven to be very controversial among British drone flyer circles. It is from a BBC television program called “Casualty.” The program is a medical drama that was first broadcast in 1986. For the context of this clip, consider the opening scenes in a TV series like “House M.D.”; the scene that explains the injuries and problems that the doctors solve for the rest of the episode. It is not an anti-drone campaign or a warning about the potential consequences of drones.
The reason it has been controversial is that in recent times, drone operators have received a lot of negative press in the U.K., especially since the Gatwick incident where the airport was closed for two days due to an alleged drone sighting. If the general public were already suspicious about drone operators, they are now hostile towards them. The main objective to the “Casualty” video is that there is no evidence that a plastic drone would destroy the rotary blades of a helicopter. It causes unnecessary worry among the general public and adds to the negative public sentiment about drones.
I take the opposite view however. Although this clip is clearly over the top, it does get me considering what would happen if I caused an incident with my drone that lead to serious injury or even death. The chances of that happening are extremely slim, but if it did, the consequences would effectively ruin my life. The video below shows my first and only drone crash. I flew my drone around a hill where it lost signal. As soon as it did, it tried to return home and for some reason, did not bother avoiding obstacles. Although this crash proved harmless, imagine if something similar happened and it crashed into a moving car on a highway.
Consider home insurance for a minute. The chances of your house burning down or being destroyed in a natural disaster are relatively slim, yet most of us take out home insurance, because the consequences of such a disaster would be catastrophic without insurance.
This brings me back to flying a drone. The law in most countries around the world states that any commercial work with a drone requires public liability insurance. This is also true for many commercial shoots done with regular camera equipment in the public realm. In the U.K., you are required to have a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) in place before doing commercial work which also includes a flight manual stating exactly how you will be using your drone. If you do not follow this procedure, your insurance is invalidated.
A few months ago, I couldn't fathom why you needed a PfCO to do commercial work. My argument was that there is no difference between taking a photo and uploading it to Instagram versus selling it to a client. I’ve come to appreciate that the answer is insurance. By getting the PfCO, you’re able to take out insurance that will cover you should you cause some catastrophic damage.
There have recently been a number of incidents of people getting hurt or dying while taking selfies. The general agreement is that it no photo is worth injury or death. I’ve taken that approach with flying my drone. Unless I am covered by insurance, I will not fly it where it could cause an injury. This basically leaves me with open water or secluded wilderness.
If you have a drone, how have you approached flying it? Do you make sure you are covered by insurance or are you prepared to risk flying it in certain situations?