10 things you need to bear in mind before commissioning drone-based photography or filming

There are some basic principle that apply to ANY drone pilot whether recreational or commercial. These are laid down by the CAA in their Drone Safe Guide. These principles also form the basis of any commercial drone pilot's 'licence' (see point 1).

OK, so starting off.... there are more than 10 here, but there are 10 really KEY principles (highlighted in bold / underlined below) that you need to bear in mind if you are thinking about commissioning drone-based aerial photography or filming. These principles relate to your drone provider specifically, but you need to be aware of them when you are thinking of a) choosing a provider & b) commissioning such work, & they are:

  1. To fly commercially (anything that involves 'valuable consideration' [so not just a fee but also anything that adds value to a person or a business, so photos that may not be sold directly or charged for eg photos of client work or projects used in any marketing materials, external or internal; or a person's reputation, so Facebook or YouTube followings etc]) your pilot needs a licence - well technically it's a Permission for Commercial Work (PfCW) which will specify the kind of aerial work that they have permission to carry out, along with any exceptions that they may be permitted to carry out ie fly at night, at low levels or in restricted areas.

  2. They also need insurance for the type of work they are doing - even if someone is flying recreationally they should have insurance to cover them for just that, this can be obtained via a local model aircraft flying club or various online insurers. When commissioning drone-based aerial photography or filming you should see a copy of the provider's licence & their relevant insurance. If they are flying in breach of the terms of their PfCW, their insurance is invalid!

  3. You need the express permission from the landowner or their authorised agent for a drone to take-off / land on their property - so if you are planning on videoing a wedding or other celebration you need the landowner (church or hotel's) express permission in writing. There may be additional complications obtaining permission with public venues for example with other wedding parties or guests on the premises.On a large project several authorised take-off / landing sites may be required along with permission for each one if there are multiple landowners involved in the project.

  4. The drone must always be kept in sight - at all times (so the pilot can see & avoid objects & other airspace users, plus also they can bring the drone back safely if the image / telemetry to the radio controller & / or display fails or if they loose their GPS signal). This point goes to having an authorised take-off / landing site within a sensible distance of the subject & being able to navigate a congested airspace of any tall buildings, trees, power lines etc. The pilot needs to follow manufacturer's instructions (they need to know their drone, know its functions, it capabilities & its limitation, but more specifically the emergency procedures ie Return to Home).

  5. Stay below 400 feet / 120 metres (to reduce the likelihood of conflict with manned aircraft).

  6. Keep 50 metres / 150 feet from people & property (especially anything the pilot does not have direct control over - so other peoples' property, roads, railway tracks, parks, footpaths & sensitive sites like schools, old peoples' homes, police stations, army barracks, aerospace or defence industry sites, SSIs, land with animals etc). You probably also need to think about the data protection element of your project more broadly, the 50 metre rule is there so as not to breach other people's privacy with the drone & its camra, but depending on your area of business & your subject you might want to give this aspect extra consideration & discuss this with your provider.

  7. This does mean that even recreationally you can't just fly from a front or back garden unless your take-off spot is in the middle of a garden that is 100 metres / 300 feet (2 x 50 metres / 2 x 150 feet) wide & deep, & even then the drone needs to remain at least 50 metres / 150 feet high - unless the pilot has the express (not implied) permission of the relevant neighbours & direct control of their land during the flight. & direct control of their land (as to be able to give the householders and anyone visiting the property instructions if required - especially under emergency conditions, during the flight). The pilot also needs to stay 50 metres / 150 feet away from any roads, footpaths or other public access & ideally not fly directly overhead of either of these so as not to put motorists or pedestrians at risk.

  8. The pilot is responsible for each flight & what happens to their drone at ALL times (the CAA is responsible for policing any infringements of the Drone Code involving aircraft / passenger safety while the Police are responsible for infringements of all other aspects of the Drone Code including trespass, criminal damage & Data Protection etc).

  9. Stay away from aircraft, airports & airfields (min 1 km). Again to so as not to put other airspace users at risk.

  10. The pilot can only fly during daylight hours unless they have an exception to their PfCW.

  11. The pilot cannot fly in the No Fly Zones of Central London ie EG R157 Hyde Park, EG R158 (City of London) & EG R159 (Isle of Dogs) & a number of other areas in the UK - see www.noflydrones.co.uk for more detail & also www.dronesafe.uk/safety-apps.

  12. Nor can they fly within 50 metres / 150 feet or over crowds, public events, sporting events or gatherings of 1000 people or more.

Having one or more of these issues doesn't automatically mean we can't fly but that we need to make special provision with the various authorities & in any Flight Plan, Method Statement or Risk Assessment or bring in a specialist pilot with the additional permissions required. Please do just talk to us, we can advise you on how best to get your project delivered.

As mentioned above, some licenced (PfCW) pilots will have additional permissions in their licence which allow them to fly at lower or higher levels, at night for example, but these will be clearly detailed in their Permission for Commercial Work, which you should see / keep a copy of, along with valid insurance cover for the work they are going to carry out for you.

Additionally Safety Cases & Non-Standard & Enhanced Safety Cases can be applied for by licenced (PfCW) drone operators with the CAA, however these are not guaranteed, are non-generic so apply to a specific project or business, can take a long time to secure & are often costly because of the resources required to make the application.

Using a drone commercially isn't just a case of putting a drone in the air, the relevant due diligence needs to be done, a suitable provider identified & the project planned out accordingly. But having said all that, aerial photography & filming can add real drama & perspective to your project & can really bring a subject to life!

See our guide on commissioning a drone-based aerial inspection or survey