Don’t fall foul of drone legislation in the skies above Bedford

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Bedford's River Great Ouse, Longholme Boat House, Longholme Lake and Butterfly Bridge. Credit: ADC Films
Bedford's River Great Ouse, Longholme Boat House, Longholme Lake and Butterfly Bridge. Credit: ADC Films

Just look at any social media page and you’re likely to see spectacular photographs or videos from drones being flown over places like Bedford.

Drones are clearly here to stay and they have huge benefits way beyond leisure or commercial use.

Our emergency services, for example, are using them more and more as aides for police to catch criminals or fire officers to assess an active fire before entering a building.

And as drone use becomes more and more popular, legislation has now been introduced to help protect people from accidents involving drones.

Bedford Park and Pavilion. Credit: Drone ADC Films
Bedford Park and Pavilion. Credit: ADC Films

With Bedford, in particular our river and surrounding countryside, being a popular spot for drone filming and photography, we thought we’d ask a local expert what people need to consider before using a drone to capture images.

The main issue seems to be around the used of drones in congested areas. This mostly refers to a city, town or settlement, or any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.

Bedford’s Embankment or town centre, for example, would be considered a congested area the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) say that if you’re not licensed to fly a drone, then you shouldn’t be flying in areas like that.

But why not? Adam Cochrane of ADC Films, is a drone pilot certified with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), he says: “Without a certificate from the CAA you are only allowed to fly, at closest, 150 meters away from a congested area.

“Popular areas near the Embankment for drone take off are only 129 meters from houses and people.”

The River Great Ouse and Bedford Girls School. Credit: ADC Films
The River Great Ouse and Bedford Girls School. Credit: ADC Films

Without licence, permission and insurance, you would be in serious breach of drone legislation if you attempted to fly your drone along the River Great Ouse due to its close proximity to people and buildings.

You are also putting yourself at a potential risk of personal damages too.

“If something was to go wrong with the drone and it hurt a member of the public, the operator is liable for damages”, explains Adam.

“If you don’t have a licence to fly in a congested area you will not be insured to fly in one. This means if someone is injured and they take legal action, the financial obligation will fall to the operator to cover.

“Remember that flight info is also stored on many drones so a decent lawyer would easily have the drone operator on liability”.

The basics of drone flight seem clear. If you have a drone and fly for fun (this means you are not receiving a financial reward for the activity, or promoting yourself in any way, even over social media) then you must stay at least 150 meters away from a congested area.

Bedford Park fountain. Credit: ADC Films
Bedford Park fountain. Credit: ADC Films

In practice this means flying in Bedford, without a licence, is largely impossible as you are typically within 150 meters of a “congested area”.

Even if you manage to find an area in Bedford that is far enough away, you should have permission from the landowner and/or Bedford Borough Council.

Typically to avoid any recourse on them, most will only give permission to certified and insured drone pilots.

Commercial drone operation

This is an area that many local businesses, who use drone footage for promotional reasons, are at risk of falling foul from.

The CAA seem to be very clear on this saying that if you are a business or individual who uses drone footage for marketing benefits, then you must either have permission from the CAA to fly a drone commercially or hire someone who has that permission.

Once again, this is all down to insurance, and let’s face it, ethics. If, for example, you don’t have a CAA certificate to fly commercially you are not insured.

Your business insurance and public liability insurance won’t cover commercial drone operation and therefore won’t cover you for damages to a person or property if you don’t hold a licence.

It’s the same example as driving a car. If you don’t have a licence then you don’t have insurance, even if you’ve paid for it.

Pilots, who have had specialist training are protected should something happen.
Pilots, who have had specialist training, are protected should something happen.

But, as Adam says, this doesn’t mean a business needs to buy separate drone insurance just to create some standout videos or photography.

“Pilots, who have had specialist training with reputable companies like Up Lift Drone Training to get a CAA certificate, are insured for the unthinkable and this means all businesses those pilots work with are protected should something happen.

“If something goes wrong, you need to be insured and the only way to be sure of that is to make sure that whoever is taking the footage holds a license from the CAA and the necessary insurance in place.”