Why John Lewis is doing the right thing by not selling drones

We were asked by Andrew Peach of BBC Radio Berkshire, yesterday, what we thought of John Lewis no longer selling drones following the recent disruption at Gatwick see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50070815.

We think it’s the responsible thing to do and wished more retailers took the same approach.

Nearly all technology can be exploited by those with criminal or terrorist intent and drones are no different. It is extremely difficult and hugely costly to protect against the kind of disruption that someone with a £1,000 drone, or drones, sold essentially as a toy, can cause with (as the recent TV programme https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006h51 showed). However, there are additional risks posed by drones in inexperienced hands.

Most drones really aren’t toys – possibly with the exception of the tiny nano drones that are designed to be flown indoors and essentially fit in to the palm of your hand - but even then you need to be careful of people, especially children, & pets.

Drones are a serious risk to aircraft & also people on the ground. Back in 2015 a young boy was badly hurt by a drone (serious eye injury), flown by a family friend who lost control of his drone in a back garden - when it clipped a tree and spun out of control. See our blog post on drones & aircraft & people safety

https://www.thamesvalleydrones.co.uk/single-post/2017/05/03/So-whats-the-big-deal-with-drones-aircraft-or-people

Most people don’t know that you can’t fly an average drone -

  • in a standard back garden (there just isn’t the regulatory amount of space required where the pilot has control of that area (50 metres in all directions) - you are likely to have neighbours, possibly children, pets & animals in close proximity,

  • within 150 metres from crowds and built up areas – weddings & events (public & private) are another favourite drone subject (again this goes to the space & land owner permission issues – plus health & safety & data protection (privacy) of other guests [including children]) We attended a fireworks display last year when a drone was illegally put in the air by someone in the crowd, for example. We regularly get asked to film or photograph weddings until we ask for the landowner's permission and the organiser hasn't thought about asking the hotel (who may have other guests at the venue, not related to the event, & who may not want to be filmed or have themselves or their family put at risk), church or other type of venue

  • in your local park (you need the landowner’s permission and they would be unlikely to give it where there are members of the public about,

  • in the road outside your house (public highway – permission & safety of the public including pedestrians and motorists).

You just have to watch YouTube to see the risks that people take with their drones.

What most people don't realise is that the cheaper the drone, the more unstable & difficult to fly it can be, especially in any wind. The more expensive the drone is the more automatic & advance functions it has and you really have to know your drone to fly it safely – which is why we as licenced pilots go through ground school, a practical flight exam and our operations manual so that we know what to do in the rare event that something unexpected occurs on a job.

From 30 November this year (2019) if you fly a drone over 250 gms you need to register your drone AND pass a basic competency test before you fly. See https://dronesafe.uk/drone-code/#

The problem with buying a drone off-the-shelf is that there isn't always a place you can legally learn to fly your drone safely & responsibly, unless you have a property with a lot of land.

But as a recreational pilot you can make life a lot simpler by doing a short recreational pilot course typically a half or day long, the course will help you master your drone and identify what you need to learn in order to fly safely and responsibly. The other option is to look to see if your local model aircraft flying club is open to drones.

There are a couple of bits of legislation that govern any drone operation, whether recreational or commercial, ie Health & Safety (in the air and on the ground) and Data Protection (privacy) but also you need to consider damage to property – a drone falling through your roof from 400 feet would leave a bit of a hole! So you need some kind of insurance even if you are just flying recreationally, you are more at risk of an accident while you are learning to master your drone.

As a commercial operator we are not against recreational drone flying but just want to ensure that it is done responsibly & safely., and not just for the public but also the drone pilot too. But also to protect the reputation of all those flying drones whether recreationally or commercially.

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