DRONE PERMISSIONS AND PROFESSIONALISM: THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
You're looking for a "drone" pilot? You want someone who can put a camera in the air and capture unique, creative or useful images? How do you know which provider is right for you? If you are a professional purchaser maybe you need to define some evaluation criteria? If you are seeking some creative and enticing images to sell your property, where do you start?
Hopefully I can help.
What are you looking to procure? What is the service that you are buying? The chances are you're looking for images right? Photographic or videographic. Or both. When I first considered entering into this world of aerial imaging the first step I took was to look at existing providers. A quick web search and it became apparent there was a huge divide in the provider market. There are those who have been flying drones and/or RC aircraft for many years and enter into this market with a wealth of knowledge and experience in flying. Then, there are those, like me, who have decades of experience in photography and videography but only a few to no years experience in flying.
To the reader you're probably already seeing where this is heading. I am by no means being dismissive of the skills developed through decades of flight. I have picked up many tips in my training that help enormously whilst flying. But, getting back to the reason for your pilot search, you want images. Photography is fairly easy to learn but difficult to master. My suggestion then, is to assess each provider on their images first. Look for the best pictures you can find and at least then, you know you have the skills to deliver what you are looking for. If you're not sure, look to the drone itself. No photographer could dream of sacrificing their aperture settings to take the right picture. Its like taking a clutch pedal out of a car. It will still work but the results wont be ideal. Ask what drones are being used. Ask what cameras are being used. Do they possess filters? Ask what settings and modes the photographer shoots in. If not fully manual, be concerned, If fully auto, look elsewhere!
So, I have built my shortlist of great image specialists. Thats it right? Well, maybe! You still need to check the pilot is qualified. Currently, "qualified" means having received Permissions for Commercial Operations (PfCO) from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). In short this means the pilot has sat their flight theory exam, written an operational manual, undertaken a flight test (like a driving test but, erm, in the sky) and had all the above submitted to the CAA and gained approval to operate. If you want to make sure your operator is squeaky clean check CAP 1361 here which lists all those individuals and organisations with current approvals. We're on there!
Right, lets get that provider working? Erm, hold on! There are some more details you may need to consider. All pilots are regulated by the Air Navigation Order 2016 and the Civil Air Procedures 722. You can find these regulations abbreviated in the drone code to save yourself an exciting bed time read! It doesn't stop there. Given drones carry cameras they are also covered under the stipulations in the Data Protection Act and CCTV Code. No, I am not kidding we are somewhat burdened with regulatory stipulations but, in my opinion, rightly so.
What does this means for me when I am selecting adrone operator though? Well, I have a great example. I recently read a blog entry from a drone operator who had been commissioned to undertaken some work for a local authority. Preparation was great, all the flight plans and site surveys undertaken. Risk assessments completed and off he went to do the job. One of the selected sites to fly from was a school field. There had been no contact prior to the flight and the pilot turned up at the front desk, proudly displaying permissions certificate, project brief, branded company clothing and requested permission to fly. "No" came the answer from the Headmaster, via the receptionist. A reiteration of the request was made reiterating the CAA permissions and the brief from the Local Authority customer. "No" came the answer again. This resulted in an accusation of "ignorance" and "prejudice" against drones as a result, in a blog!!! I only hope this particular Headmaster didn't see the blog.
Sadly this particular pilot failed to check requirements of the Information Commissioners Office regarding Data Protection for children and the CCTV Code. Something, I suspect, the Headmaster was all too aware of! It could be argued that the children were in class and the camera wouldn't be pointed at them ... but the regulations still apply and this was a commercial operation for public display. Even if that argument stands, as a representative of this emerging market, we have a duty of care to be consummate professionals. A little extra time to make contact with the school and plan ahead would have saved time and discomfort. Legally though, in that situation, permissions should have been sought from every parent of every child and every occupant of the school that would be present!
So, hopefully a picture is emerging of what you should be looking for in your selected provider:
They know how to use a camera and have adequate equipment
They know how to fly safely and have permissions to do so
They know how to plan and prepare adequately
They have a broader awareness of regulatory requirements upon them and beyond that of the permissions training
As drone pilots we have a responsibility to promote the use of drones safely and with respect to everyones privacy. Even with permissions though, there are no guarantee's as you can see.
With so many unregistered and rogue pilots its even more important. Any qualified drone operator should welcome enquiries and questions to help people understand the value these emerging technologies can provide.
Just don't ask us when we're flying! :)