Drones…..it seems these days that these tiny helicopter-like gadgets armed with cameras and fun are becoming as prolific in Britain’s skies as the birds are. Since they burst onto the scene a few years back, drones have taken on a multiplicity of roles. They have been used by the U.S. military to recce terrorist camps and one armed with missiles have obliterated a few of them, reducing the need for boots on the ground. One was used by a filmmaker to fly above the abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine, made radioactive by the fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in the Eighties. The price of drones has fallen enough that many amateur flyers have used them to take to the heavens, filming everything from local skylines to music concerts. Photographers in particular have incorporated the drone as an invaluable asset alongside their normal camera equipment and online retailer Amazon is contemplating hiring an army of drones to work as flying couriers delivering parcels to their customers. If you are still unsure that drones are here to stay, you need only take a trip to your local park and it is a guarantee that you will see at least one drone hovering about, wide-eyed and gawping child in attendance. Since this Christmas, thousands of children have rushed to their Christmas trees to unwrap the increasingly affordable aerial technology that have helped push the old stick-and-glue model airplane cockpit first into the 21st century. Certainly, many adults who once tore open their presents to find a DIY glider or helicopter have taken to drones in their droves as they familiarise themselves with the latest evolution in airborne hobbies.
However as more people adopt a drone and take to the skies, owing to falling prices, lighter models, and as manufacturers adopt methods of flight control using apps downloadable to users’ phones, there are increasing concerns about the safety of the devices. Several incidents that have made the headlines recently have called into question the laws governing the use of drones (officially called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs), which can easily reach the heights that were once sole domain of larger aircraft and birds, and now often come equipped with high-definition cameras. Those concerns means the whizzy little flier you got from Uncle Bert could pose both a security risk, as well as a safety one, potentially causing danger to other air travellers and the liability of a custodial judgement and/or a large fine.
A drone made the news in July 2014 when it came within a mere twenty feet (six metres) of a passenger plane coming in to the runway at London’s Heathrow airport, narrowly avoiding being sucked into the plane’s engines and causing a crash. It had been operated by a hobbyist, in direct contravention of rules stating that airports are no-fly zones for such craft. In Australia, a triathlete on training claims she was struck by a drone, while a Euro 2016 qualifier between the Albanian and Serbian football teams descended into chaos after a drone appeared above the pitch carrying a nationalist banner advocating a ‘Greater Albania‘. The errant drone and its political statement was enough to infuriate Serb fans and players resulting in a pitch brawl and suspension of the game. The drone was said to have been the property of the brother of the Albanian prime minister.
Not surprisingly, given the recent and potentially increasing number of incidents and accidents caused by drones, insurers are warning hobbyists to double-check they have their gadgets insured against any damage or injuries to third parties, as well as respecting laws around their use.
Gerry Bucke, general manager of the Adrian Flux car insurance firm, says that while UK aviation law states that a drone should not be flown within fifty feet of a person or animal, flight problems, lack of flying experience, equipment malfunction or a flat battery could turn your festive gift into a potentially lethal flying weapon.
“A lot of people taking their new gadget out for the first time may well not be aware of the laws governing the use of drones, and they may also not have considered the need to check they are covered for liability in the event of something going wrong,” he added.
“Some of the bigger drones on the market, which still only sell for a few hundred pounds, can cause serious injury to people and damage to property, leaving the user open to significant claims for damages.“
“So we’d urge everyone to check their liability cover under their home insurance policy to ensure they are covered in the event of an incident.“
Most home insurance policies exclude liability cover resulting from the use of motorised vehicles and aircraft.
The question is, are drones “aircraft” or are they merely toys or gadgets?
The relatively recent arrival of drones on the public marketplace means many insurers either have no idea what they are or how to classify them for insurance purposes. There has yet to be any company that will insure drones as a speciality. As a result, the interpretations are diverse and different insurers would be liable to take different views on a claim involving a drone mishap.
Adrian Flux contacted two other players in the insurance field who gave different interpretations of how drones should be covered. One said that liability could be covered as long as the drone was not used for ‘business purposes’, the other stated that as the drone would be seen as an aircraft in their opinion, it would be excluded from the owner’s general insurance policy.
“It’s all going to come down to the interpretation of each insurer as to whether the drone is classed as an aircraft or just a fun toy,” said Mr Bucke.
“That’s why, if you’re in any doubt, you need to get it in writing from your insurer that you are covered for liability.“
Fans of cameras with rotors should familiarise themselves with the rules governing drone use near airports or helipads. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority manages airspace use and safety regulations for our aerospace, and they have published a set of simple rules around drones to protect the safety of everyone in the air.
- An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must never be flown within 50m (164ft) of a person, vehicle, building or structure or within 150m (492ft) of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert.
- An unmanned aircraft must not be flown beyond the normal unaided line of sight of the operator, typically measured as 500m (1,640ft) horizontally or 122m (400ft) vertically.
- Commercial operators, including professional photographers, require permission from the CAA to fly a drone.