Illegal Drone Operators - how to spot them?

Just a quick search of the term 'drone operators' or 'aerial photography' will fill a few google pages with RPAS operators in your local area, a clear indicator of how quickly this industry is growing. All drone operator have varying capabilities, aircraft and most importantly cost! But they will never be as cheap as the 'Del Boy’ that approaches you in person offering you cheap or even free aerial photography. How is it one operator can charge £20 while others are charging in the hundreds for the same job? Well the chances are your £20 guy is an illegal drone operator and so doesn’t have the associated costs that comes with being a legal and responsible operator. Which is fine until you start to think about what that means for you as a customer.

Firstly, if you are paying for that footage and intend to use it for the purpose of making revenue (e.g. for marketing) then the flight, footage and general transaction is very much against the law! In order to make money from aerial photography or videography all operators require permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Secondly it means that your property and any persons present are not insured. Yes, if that aircraft crashes into your nice car, boat or house due to pilot error or even malfunction, the operator will not be insured for any losses he/she has caused.

Last but definitely not least you are putting the safety of you and any people or property in the local area at risk of harm. The chances are that pilot does not have any qualifications that demonstrate he/she is able to safely operate the drone and is inherently a danger to anyone in the local area. Drones are not toys and can be lethal weapons in the wrong hands.

So how can you protect yourself from these risks? Simple, don’t accept any off the street business unless the pilot can provide at least one or all of the following:

1. A Permission for Aerial Work by the CAA - do not pay for any footage until you have confirmed the pilot is the holder of a PFAW (Permission for Aerial Work). The CAA holds a list of operators holding PFAW's on their website here (Note: this list is updated quarterly and therefore may not be up to date, but the operator should still be able to show you his/her permissions). 

2. A Certification of Competence - even if conducting the aerial photography for free, you should avoid any drone operators unless you are 100% confident in their flying ability. A qualification from EuroUSC or ResourceUAS should provide you with that confidence.

3. An Insurance Certificate - let’s face it, things can go wrong! So if you’re allowing the operator to fly around your property then you want to know you’re covered. Ask the operator what level of insurance cover he/she has, usually it will be in the range of £1 - 5 million.

If the pilot is reluctant to show any one of these then they are most likely illegal, uninsured and unsafe, so don’t risk it!

Check out our website on flight safety for more information.

Also this blog by Peter Lee (a lawyer specialising in Drones) is a good source for legal matters in drone operations.

Happy Flying!