PHILIP EDDELL

Philip Eddell
Defending against drones
6 October 2017

 

Love them or loath them, drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are becoming a feature of the modern world. They have the potential to be tremendously useful for property owners – with their uses limited only by our imagination – from building surveys to photographs, monitoring crops to checking livestock. But with the advent of relatively affordable, easy-to-fly devices, combined with sophisticated technology and high-quality cameras, their ubiquity and intrusiveness is starting to cause private property owners significant unease. The law is playing catch up with the rapidly evolving world of drones and we shall now attempt to explain the property owner’s rights regarding their use.

 

The Dronecode

The use of drones is governed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which recently introduced “the Dronecode” – the keys points of which are:-

• Drones must be within your line of sight and at a maximum height of 400ft (122m) and 500m from you horizontally

• If fitted with a camera, a drone must be flown at last 50m away from a person, vehicle, building or structure not owned or controlled by the pilot

• Camera-equipped drones must not be flown within 150m of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert

• Flying in or close to no fly zones (such as near airports) is a criminal offence

 

Do users need a permit?

If the user is a private individual then the answer is currently no. If, however, they are being used commercially then the user requires a “Permission for Aerial Work” permit from the CAA, which has to be renewed annually. The misuse of drones has led to the government giving consideration to all drones (irrespective of user) weighing more than 250 grams having to be registered, but this is not yet the case.

 

Enforcement

Of course many drones are capable of flying much higher than the limit specified in the Dronecode and are frequently flown over people and property that have nothing to do with the pilot. This places a large amount of trust and faith in the hands of the operator. The drones themselves are of course dangerous and an operator will be personally liable for any damage or injury caused by their actions. However, proving this can be difficult and of course invasion of privacy causes no physical damage or injury.

 

What about personal privacy?

The general public has protection from drone users via the Data Protection Act and CCTV Code of Practice. Although not drone-specific legislation, these require the camera user to obtain footage fairly and lawfully. There are of course other laws regarding harassment, nuisance, confidentiality and trespass (if the drone is low enough/lands). However, without personal injury or criminal damage these are all civil matters and so your only recourse is via the potentially expensive, and difficult to prove, civil route - especially when the user can be many hundreds of metres of away.

 

So what can I do to prevent them?

As always, engaging with the user is likely to achieve the most satisfactory results – most users will be understanding and apologetic if asked to not use their Christmas present over your family home – especially where their are livestock or children. However, some users will not always keep to the “Dronecode” and enforcement and/or prosecution is a much more complicated area. Even if you deem the drone to be “trespassing” and causing nuisance (remember you do not own your airspace – only the “height necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of your land”) any attempt to damage or capture the drone could be classified as criminal damage. There have been a few cases of drone owners being prosecuted but they have typically involved people flying near aerodromes or nuclear facilities. Therefore, until test cases revolving around trespass, or new specific laws are introduced, the homeowner will continue to be relatively powerless against the unscrupulous user.

 

Philip Eddell is a Director at Savills Country House Consultancy

 

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