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Kara's Corner

Don’t Get Detained: How to Make Sure You’re Not Breaking Drone Laws in Other Countries

June 23, 2017

One of my favorite reasons for flying a drone is to see things from an alternate perspective. I’ve canvassed the Bay Area, the place I call home, thoroughly where permitted. Now that I’m traveling abroad for a portion of this summer, I have a few new areas to peruse. While I’m familiar with the rules and regulations in my own home country of the U.S., the fact is, like the customs and cultures of other countries, the laws governing UAVs vary as well.

The last thing you want complicating your trip is to get fined or possibly arrested and detained in foreign territory. This is why it’s imperative to research the latest rules and regulations for the places you’re visiting. In the next three-and-a-half weeks, I plan on visiting Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, and France. Once you’re in Europe, it’s incredibly inexpensive and easy to get around. It would be a shame to have those savings nullified by the consequences of accidental misconduct.

Here’s an overview of the rules in the places I plan to travel, intertwined with some personal experiences, to help guide you when you take your drone abroad or anywhere. Not flying near airports or airfields is a universal given, so I’ve omitted covering these details. I’m flying for recreation. If you’re looking to expand your business or fly commercially, this excellent post from Skyward is a good starting point.

Iceland

In November, 2015, I visited this tiny Nordic island for the first time and was immediately inspired to overcome my fear of flying. I started in Reykjavik, which is now more restricted. As tourism continues to surge, stricter regulations are being drafted and enforced. Needless to say, you won’t see any drones buzzing around the country’s capital city.

Vatnajökull National Park is another area that has all but banned drone usage with very few exceptions. Not to fear, chartered tours headed to the Golden Circle, a popular area on the island’s Southern coast, as well as most of the Northern seaboard will give you plenty of opportunities to capture footage. Relatively speaking, this country is easygoing on drone pilots as long as you exercise common sense.

You’ll occasionally encounter an inactive volcano in Iceland. They’ve put up straightforward signs in these areas because there’s still a potential threat.

Ireland

Just short of 900 miles South, you’ll find another country that’s fairly open for drone pilots to operate. Basic rules still apply — you must not fly higher than 400 feet and keep at least 50 meters (165 feet) away from people or cars. Unlike the U.S., which recently did away with a similar requirement for hobbyists, any UAV weighing over 1 kilogram (a little over 2 pounds) needs to be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority for 3 euros (or $3.48).

United Kingdom

The photo that launched a friendly debate. There is a half-mile strip of private property surrounding Dunnottar Castle. I took off outside the border and maintained VLOS for a perfectly legal capture.

Last year, I took an aerial photo of Dunnottar Castle in Scotland and posted it on Twitter. Moments later, I found myself in a mild feud with the social media manager of their account. In the end, and with someone else backing me up, it was established that I was in the right. I flew at or under 400 feet, kept the drone within a horizontal distance of 500 meters (1,500 feet), and didn’t fly near a congested area or group of people.

The CAA, which governs aviation, now has a portal dedicated to drone use. While a good portion of Scotland is fairly open, minus major airports and a large military zone in the Northwest, most of England has a variety of restrictions. All of London’s Royal Parks, for example, are off completely off limits. It’s best to check No Fly Drones for guidance.

Spain

I have one friend who lives in the countryside near Pamplona and another that lives in Barcelona. The former location might be plausible for flying my drone. Since 2015, this country has established strict laws governing the use of UAVs. Flying near or over beaches, cathedrals, urban areas (cities), stadiums, and political buildings is prohibited. The typical rules of 400 feet and 1,640 feet horizontal distance apply.

France

I’ll be passing through Paris, after Spain, for a brief visit. Unfortunately, my drone will remain in its travel backpack as flying in the City of Lights, or near any national monument, is prohibited. If I were to venture elsewhere in France, I’d find most areas either restricted or subject to strict rules (supposedly flight times can’t exceed 8 minutes or, for the most part, breach a height of 328 feet). Sadly, this is a beautiful country that isn’t the friendliest for drone use.

Overall, the best advice I’ve gotten is to always check local ordinances. This means you’ll have to plan your flights ahead of time. Another important lesson I’ve learned from one of my favorite legal forums is to print out any document that will verify your right to fly in a certain area.

The drone industry is still in its infancy. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the legalities of their use and authorities aren’t always up to speed on the ever changing rules and regulations. Be polite if confronted, argue your case if challenged, and ultimately back down if it’s necessary in order to avoid any further trouble. One final thing to remember: you are responsible for your flight. Insurance is highly recommended to avoid stiff financial penalties in case of an accident.

I’m personally excited to venture out into new territories where it’s permitted and hope that over time, regulations will ease up the world over.

Featured image: Géoportail

Note: Looking for inspiration on where to travel with your drone? Grab a copy of the July/August 2017 issue of Drone360 magazine, which hits newsstands July 18.


Kara Murphy is a Part 107-certified remote pilot and writer based in Midwest.Follow her on Instagram for her more artistic aerial imagery, find out how to hire her here.

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