Friday, 12 May 2017

Drone prejudice vs safety.

Yesterday I had another experience of 'drone prejudice'. I get it, drones can be a pain in the neck. This very weekend, whilst enjoying some time in Rhos on Sea, a hobbyist was taking off from a crowded pavement. Kids playing a few metres away from sharp spinning blades. In Liverpool a few weeks previously, I saw someone taking a DJI Mavic off from the walls of Albert Dock on a very busy Sunday afternoon. Not ideal, or indeed legal. However, many of us have seen the business potential of these magnificent machines and want to do things the right way; politely and safely.

I'm working on a an exciting project of historical interest, something local schools may want to use in the future. For it to work, a local talented 3D modeller requires aerial footage of a small nearby town. After careful flight planning, checking the KP index, completing a risk assessment and site visit, working out the best launch sites, taking wind speed measurements, looking at the latest NOTAM reports and calculating a safe path around the area, avoiding purposeful overhead flight of others property. I decided that the safest option was to opt for 3 take off points. One from a nearby school field.

I arrived at the school, in my company uniform, with my flight pack ready and full of enthusiasm, after I spoke to the secretary and informed her, not only was I qualified, insured, held permission for commercial operation and DBS checked; with equally as much enthusiasm she set off to find the head master. 5 minutes later she returned and said, 'he said no, I'm so sorry, there are too many legal complications'. I explained that I was aware of the legal issues and that I would ensure that the flight would be both legal and safe, I re-iterated the work I already do with schools and my qualifications, and asked if I could possibly speak with him. She disappeared again and returned much quicker and stated, 'he said he's not interested in flying drones'. So I left, somewhat deflated. I returned to my flight plans and rechecked the distances involved. The second take off point would just about legally allow me to fly the distance to the points I needed to capture the footage; within 500 metres of the launch site. But only just. Anyone who flies will tell you, the further your craft is away from you, the much easier it is to lose sight of it. Nevertheless, the work needed doing, and the head teacher had given me no option, but to fly, less safely.

In all but one situation where I have asked for permission for a flight for something that isn't directly related to the landowner, I've been told no. TheForestry Commission, Flintshire council (took months to come back with a no) and Grosvenor estates (who even scoured my back catalogue of practice videos on Youtube and asked me to take one down that included some of their land!). Which leads me to the only conclusion;

'it's better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission'.

Obviously in situations where you're doing work for the landowner, things are always more straightforward.

Happily, I got the footage I needed, but the close minded attitude of the head teacher actually made the situation and the flight less safe. I wonder as I start my aerial photography journey how much more 'drone prejudice' I'll experience and if it's something that needs more thought from the CAA and the government? If ignorance hampers safety without a valid reason, is that worth looking at in more detail?

Surely having jumped through all of the hoops necessary by the same governing body that runs the schools and the councils, the support and co-operation of those of us wanting to pay our own way in the world should be supported? Or is it better to push the professionals and hobbyists in the same direction, and just take off on pavements where the kids run around?

Perhaps it should be an offence to purposefully hamper the safe operations of a qualified drone pilot?

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Alan Downes

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