Drone lawyers share their top 10 tips for businesses looking to get drones off the ground

Rufus Ballaster

Two prominent specialists in the legal considerations around the commercial use of drones have offered their top ten tips on what businesses need to do if they want to get drones off the ground.

Rufus Ballaster & Andrew Firman, Partners at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP and co-authors of A Practical Guide to Drone Law, share the following tips as drones continue to fall in price and entrepreneurs put them to increasingly imaginative uses across a range of sectors:

  1. Know the law – You may have grand plans to transform your business by using drones, but their use is governed by strict rules. Make sure your plans can be achieved properly and profitably without breaking the law.
  2. Get proper training – Commercial level drones are complex machines and you need to know what you are doing. Take a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved drone course.
  3. Make sure you’re insured – Things can go wrong, so it is important to make sure you are covered if they do. You may need a dedicated policy to cover such aerial activities.
  4. Get permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – This is mandatory if you are using drones commercially.
  5. Register your drone? – If legislation currently being considered by Parliament is passed, it is expected that drones weighing 250 grams or more will need to be registered from next year.
  6. Grasp your surroundings – Make sure you know what is going on around you; is there any restricted airspace near to you? Are there airport flightpaths? Are there large gatherings taking place such as sports events and concerts?
  7. Consider the data protection implications – Many commercial uses of drones will require the gathering of data, which could include sensitive and personal data. You may need to gain consent from those whose data is captured, unless they would not reasonably expect privacy in the circumstances.
  8. No trespassers – Get permission from the relevant landowners. Little known fact – there is no automatic right to fly drones so, operating in the zone up to 400ft as drones should, requires the consent of everyone you overfly.
  9. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself – The tort of nuisance applies if you cause damage to the use and enjoyment by other landowners of their property – this could be noise pollution not merely physical damage.
  10. Seek advice – Drones are still an emerging technology with rapidly changing regulations and capabilities. Professional advice can help you stay one step ahead of the game as the market evolves.

“Drones have the potential to be disruptive technologies across a range of sectors and it will be those businesses that put them to use most effectively that will reap the rewards,” said Rufus Ballaster.

“Of course, this means they need to have a good commercial strategy, but it also means they need to take good care of compliance matters as the regulatory and reputational consequences of failing to do so can be severe.”

He added: “Being such a novel technology, regulations are changing at pace and it can be difficult to keep up with this rate of change.”

Just this week, a British former F1 team owner has announced his intention to build an inter-city “flying taxi” service. Ovo Energy founder, Stephen Fitzpatrick, through Vertical Aerospace, is test-flying prototype electrical Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) ‘air-taxis’ which amount to passenger carrying drones if unpiloted.

Crucially, he said: “We are not waiting for huge changes in existing regulations.”

Rufus Ballaster was interviewed live on BBC Radio 4 to discuss this latest innovation, where he told the PM programme that the business would either need to operate within the stringent regulations governing Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) controlled airspace or, if operating at lower altitudes, seek permission from each individual landowner on the route.

A Practical Guide to Drone Law, by Rufus Ballaster & Andrew Firman and consultant, Eleanor Clot, was published last year and aims to bring together the disparate laws and regulations governing the use of drones.