I am a little surprised at how operating SUA has changed my approach to low level aerial photography. In theory, with a drone I can wait for the light, launch, shoot and bag the frame I want. In practice this is not so at all. The constraints of the ANO, as stated in CAP 722 (now in its 7th edition) restrict flight within 50m of persons vessels vehicles or structures not ‘under the control ‘ of the remote pilot. So despite passing the exams, paying a hefty fee for insurance and CAA permission most of the places I’d like to fly are closed to the drone.
As a professional I am bound to comply to the conditions of the permission granted to me by the CAA. If someone walks by within 50m of the drone I am in breach of the ANO, this is a risk I can mitigate by one of 2 actions:
- I can move the drone away from the incursion to a safe (50m) distance and wait for the risk to pass.
- I can (politely) ask the individual to wait in place or move away (under my control) while the drone is airborne.
The effect of this condition on a lone operator is to require a high level of situational awareness not only of the air space but also of the ground space. This is acceptable if the site has a single entry point in view but otherwise an observer is required.
Despite the hassle of lumpy wind, poor positioning and awkward camera stability, in comparison KAP is a doddle, the kite line tells me by feel what the air-side is doing and I can keep eyes and ears on ground space incursions. Things can get hairy in a light, on /off wind but as long as I keep in the height limit no law is broken.
Drone ops have a different relationship with the public. When flying a kite any approach from a member of the public can be met with an open, positive, conversational response, with the drone it is different- incursion is something to be controlled and the operator is required to take appropriate action: this is not entirely positive from the public’s or operators point of view. Spontaneous photography with the drone is stymied, as much by this awkward ‘control’ issue, as by the complexity of risk mitigation and flight planning.
So what the drone giveth the regulation taketh away. Things got even more involved when I was asked to fly for a roof inspection in a residential area, I know I can fly the drone over the building get the required shots and down again in a matter of minutes but the 50m proximity rule rendered the drone flight inoperable. To get the most of the shots required the erection of a 10m mast was required with a risk of toppling into a public road mitigated by pegged guy ropes and an assistant to stabilize the mast. Each set up took 20 mins and 4 were used. In my view the risk of a falling mast was far greater than a falling drone over the target area.
The 400′ /120m ceiling is useful. Provided airspace incursion procedures are in place the 120m max height is a joy.
The ‘safety-box’ concept in KAP allows for a single, simple zone of concentration, drone ops are more demanding even though camera positioning and control are far superior.
There is no restriction on what you can photograph in a public place. Awareness of incursion by the public scares me off using the drone in any public place. Knowing the kite can deliver shots safely and without legal challenge gives me confidence in the work that the drone, despite being far more controllable doesn’t.