While drones received very negative press in December following the problems at Gatwick Airport, in reality drones have brought some significant benefits to the transport sector

Camera drones are very good at showing some of those hard-to-reach areas such as roofs and tucked away corners in the environs of a depot, allowing easier inspections and giving a different view on things.

High definition pictures can show defects in a structure while staying a safe distance away from the buildings themselves. Once identified, a more detailed inspection by humans can then take place and the relevant repair made or offending item removed, saving both time and money.

Equally, camera drones are very helpful in surveying linear routes such as the prospective route of a new light rail system, as well as being part of the inspection team once the system is established. However, such flights will take the drone over significant distances and across private property so there needs to be a set of rules which govern how the drones can operate.

Drone imageGeneral regulations
The Air Navigation Order 2016 (the ANO) is the primary set of rules for all aviation within the UK. It deals with everything from flights involving large commercial aircraft to the short duration flights of small drones. Some of the regulations are specific to types of aircraft, including for small drones which have a mass of under 20kg (referred to in the ANO as small unmanned aircraft (SUA)).

These are generally simpler than those for commercial aircraft. However, there are some regulations within the ANO which apply to all aircraft including SUAs. Article 241 for example, requires all operators of any aircraft not to endanger the safety of any person or property. A person found guilty of an offence under Article 241 is liable for an unlimited fine and up to two years in jail.

SUA specific regulations
For SUAs the regulations are relatively straightforward, with some additional requirements if they are used for commercial purposes or with cameras. These include the need for permissions and licensing by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Growth in the use of drones has seen some recent amendments to the regulations for SUAs under the ANO through the Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018. They made a number of clarifications as well as extending some restrictions to any SUAs weighing over 250 grams.

Key changes include:

  • Clarifying that responsibility for a SUA can lie both with the remote pilot physically operating the SUA and the SUA operator (the person or company with overall management of the SUA)
  • Introducing a scheme requiring SUA operators to be registered and to display their registration number on their SUAs
  • Introducing a competence requirement for remote pilots of SUAs, to be in place by 1st October 2019.

Without the registration number the SUA is not permitted to be flown. Once the competency training is in place, remote pilots will need to have passed the relevant competency test and SUA operators will need to ensure that their remote pilots have the relevant competency certification.

Other restrictions
The ANO regulations only cover requirements to fly a SUA. They do not give a right to fly unhindered. Permission is needed from the owner or manager of the land from which the SUA takes off and lands. There may also be restrictions imposed by statutory bodies such as the emergency services, the Highways Agency and local authorities.

However tempting it may be for a company to buy a couple of drones to help with its asset management, time should be taken to ensure that any operations are fully compliant with all relevant regulations.

Martin Fleetwood is a Consultant at Addleshaw Goddard’s Transport practice. Within this, the Rail Team has over thirty lawyers who advise clients in both the private and public sectors across a wide range of legal areas. As well as regulatory issues, this includes operational matters, franchises, concessions, contracts, finance, employment, property, environmental and procurement issues.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.