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The use of drones is on the rise and is expected to keep increasing. PwC report that the industry could be worth £41.7 billion to the UK GDP by 2030. With this rise comes the responsibility for the UK Government to ensure that the UK’s skies are safe and accessible, but also to ensure that there is a robust legal framework that protects the public, consumers and manufacturers.

Currently, regulation over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drone technology can be found spread out in legislation concerning aviation, such as the Air Navigation Order 2016 and the recently updated Drone Code. There is no specific legislation for drones and the pressure for Government has only increased with the recent sightings of drones over our cities’ airports.

However, this is set to change as the UK Government aims to pass a specific Drone Act. Currently the law is making its way through parliament and is set to have its second House of Commons reading on 15 February 2019.

The expansion in the industry is largely due to the development of technology which has either improved on services that already existed or created new services altogether. For example:

  • Drones used for surveying and inspecting (construction, oil, land, solar farms, buildings, power lines, power plants, land and sea surveys)

  • Drones used for media and journalism (capturing footage, live broadcast, remoteness and conflict zones)

  • Drones used for emergency services (fire, rescue, policing, searching, tracking and aerial surveillance)

  • Drones used in agriculture (flooding warning, precision farming, crop dusting, fire detection)

The Construction Section

The construction industry has tapped into and adopted drone technology unlike any other sector. Drones are becoming more and more an integral part of the construction industry, saving costs and reducing turnaround time for services that would previously take days if not weeks. For example:

Initial and continuous survey of sites and measurementDrones are able to record, map and calculate measurements on constructions sites.

Construction Mapping and 3D modellingWith the use of VR technology, construction projects can be pitched using accurate contour mapping and 3D modelling which can take into account environmental features such as neighbouring buildings or rivers to ensure that construction builds will be accurate.  

Monitoring, Security and Maintenance – Real time monitoring with live feed and often thermal imagery and artificial intelligent software allows site owners to use drones as part of an in-the-moment security system. On construction sites, assessing whether parameters are secure or checking if a site is environmentally safe after adverse weather or disasters can be done by deploying a drone for such purposes.

Risk and Safety ReportsDrones can now be deployed to access parts of a build/site that would be considered too risky or unsafe for any personnel. Leaks, flammable substances or areas that are too narrow for people and cameras to go are now accessible to drones allowing specialists to carry out surveys and reports to assess risk and allow teams to fix problems in a much shorter timeframe.

Transportation of material/payload - The transportation of goods (such as the soon PrimeAir®) and blue light services such as donor transportation over the Solent, is an application that is becoming very popular and realistic. For the construction industry, the scheduled movement of tools, material and/or equipment is a vital part of a build process. The agricultural sector is also seeing an increased use in drones for the deployment of chemicals and water on pre-scheduled flight plans and solar charging stations for drones to re-charge before the next cycle.

The Law

With innovation will come more applications and the law needs to keep in line with the technology. The Government amended parts of the Air Navigation Order 2016, with effect from May 2018, and other restrictions and limits come into effect in November 2019. These include:

  • Drones are not to be flown above 400 feet.

  • Drones weighing more than 250gram must be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority.

  • All operators of drones must take and pass a competency test before flying.

The legal framework that governs the flying of drones in the UK requires the consideration of EU and International regulations. In most cases permission is required to fly drones near people and buildings – this includes construction uses. There are other legal issues such as data protection, privacy issues and liability in the event there is an error with the UAV whilst in flight.

Owners and operators of all UAVs and UASs in the UK and EU need to comply with various air regulations in force and there are strict laws that govern use in various circumstances, such as flight near congested areas, over congested areas, near people, over people, near buildings, over buildings. Use outside of the regulations can result in the operator and owner being liable for a full spectrum of offences, including trespass, nuisance, breach of privacy, breach of data protection. Breaches are both criminal and civil offences.

We recommend that before any commercial use is made of a UAV or UAS or a drone, users seek legal advice to ensure that the use of their drone and the data/imagery that is being captured does not violate any civil or criminal rights.


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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