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Drones for Business, Schools and Leisure


The use of Military Drones has been well covered by the news media over recent years with regular reports of targeted strikes in conflict areas, among other applications.
...but now they are being used commercially.


The use of drones for non-military purposes is a recent phenomena and an industry in its formative years, albeit one in rapid growth mode.

As with other new technologies during their formative years, there is yet no clear agreement on what the new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles should be called and although most people understand what a "Drone" is, the industry is generally keen to move away from that name given its military connotations.

Alternative names currently being used include;

  • Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA)
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (UAVS)
  • Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)

In the UK, the current favourite seems to be Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (UAVS), so we will go with the flow and refer to them in this article as UAVs

There is no doubt that UAVs are here to stay and they open many exciting opportunities for use in the commercial and leisure industries. They also however offer new risks which is why there are already many regulations in place, designed to ensure that operators (pilots) use them responsibly and safely.

Here are some examples of current uses;

UAV with on-board camera

  • Personal Leisure Video or Photography – making images from an excitingly different viewpoint easily affordable
  • Aid economic production of Documentary or News Videos in challenging environments
  • Aerial Reconnaissance & surveillance, i.e. Crowd or Area activity monitoring, intelligence gathering, etc.
  • Inspecting items such as Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) as undertaken by Cyberhawk for Network Rail, or inspection of difficult to reach places such as; tall buildings, sea walls, etc.
  • Surveying construction sites, or aerial surveying for topographic, aerial oblique & panoramic imagery for terrain mapping or geophysics surveys
  • Deployment in monitoring applications such as coastal erosion, road deformation, etc.
  • Deliveries – from large on-line retailers like Amazon and Google, to the local curry house, it seems that companies of all sizes are thinking of ways they can utilise the potential of UAV technology to outdo their competitors!
  • Search and rescue – at sea, over inland waters, on land, or even within dangerous structures or buildings
  • Agricultural use including crop spraying, measuring soil temperature and nitrate levels, or even monitoring dry stone walls for damage

UAVs potential for home deliveries

Benefits often include faster results and lower costs;

  • Cost effective alternative to traditional methods of operation, i.e. quick results and lower cost of a UAV based survey compared to an on the ground project, or use of a UAV as alternative way to gathering news videos when compared with helicopter based filming
  • Eliminates cost and danger of personnel working at height – such as when surveying overhead cables, tall buildings, etc.
  • Safety – UAVs are highly manoeuvrable and can be used to search derelict buildings or dangerous structures without putting human searchers at risk.

UAVs do however offer new potential dangers including;

  • Risk to aircraft - i.e. when used at or near Airports or local airfields
  • In-air crashes between UAVs or a UAV and other object or structure
  • Drones crashing out of the sky – a risk if flying above crowds, roads, built up areas, etc.
  • Illegal use such as delivering drugs to prison inmates via upper floor cell windows
  • Privacy breaches – spying into private areas, through windows, etc.
  • Terrorist use (surveillance gathering, or even targeted attacks delivered from the air)

State of the art technology offers versatility;

  • Cameras & stabilising systems allow quality video or still images to be captured even from lower cost UAV systems aimed at the leisure user and which cost just a few hundred pounds.
  • GPS (Global Positioning System) technology offers key information for applications such as mapping or surveying.
  • LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging system) – a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light
  • Fuel monitoring and return to base technology, help to avoid crashes resulting from running out of fuel or the UAV venturing beyond control range and getting lost.
  • Flight duration depends on a number of factors including the type of propulsion system used, with low cost battery powered units typically offering around 10-30 minutes of flight from a single battery charge, whilst more sophisticated commercial UAVs offer very significant operational flying time and range.

Regulations and legislation;

The Regulating body in the UK for UAVs weighing less than 150kg is the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) which has stated that a number of requirements have to be satisfied before it will issue a Permission to Carry Out Aerial Work, including;

  • An Airworthiness Certificate
  • A Design and Construction Certificate
  • Pilot Qualification
  • Appropriate Insurance
  • Organisational Approval

NOTE: UAV operators should note that there is a specific distinction between a Permit to Fly and Permission to Carry Out Aerial Work.

In addition to the regulations applicable to Aviation regulations there are additional regulations associated with the human rights of an individual, which means that the images collected have to be treated with the regulations concerning data protection and privacy.

Insurance, Licence & Pilot Qualification

It is an offence to operate a UAV in a restricted area, of which there are many in the UK as well as in other countries around the world. There are also many other restrictions regarding the flying of UAVs such as proximity to people, potential invasion of privacy, flying in built up areas, etc.

Ignorance of such restrictions is not an excuse and anyone deemed to be breaking the rules could find themselves in hot water with penalties ranging from a stiff rebuke, to a heavy fine, or even a spell in prison and a criminal record for a serious breach.

Anyone looking to use a UAV for commercial purposes will need to attend a recognised training course, achieve a pilot licence and ensure they have appropriate insurance before they commence flying, ...and any aspiring casual user would be well advised to do the same.

UAVSA (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association) is the industry trade association formed in 1998 to promote the safe, integrated and effective use of UAVs (Drones) in both military and civilian airspace environments. Their website is a valuable source of information and includes details of training courses and specialist insurers among other things;



The Genie is out of the bottle and UAVs are here to stay,

For amateur leisure use, UAVs offer previously unaffordable opportunities for exciting video filming in challenging or previously inaccessible locations, as well as offering the potential for delivering loads of fun such as organised flying competitions for enthusiasts and much more.

For schools, educational uses of UAVs range from film making and media studies, to technology and science development, whilst for businesses there are endless potential uses.

Obviously there are massive potential benefits offered by this exciting new technology, but it also comes with new risks.

There are still some big questions to be answered, such as; who will ultimately regulate UAVs and how will they do it in a way that encourages, not stifles, innovation? How can we mitigate privacy concerns? How can we live with a sky full of UAVs? ...and how can we use this technology to enhance our lives and our planet, instead of creating more chaos?

While society is working on the answers, if you are considering investing in a UAV, please remember that it`s your responsibility to use it safely and responsibly ...as well as legally.


We hope you have found this brief introduction to Drones / UAVs useful

The Insight Team


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This message was added on Monday 6th June 2016

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