Access to high-quality drones for aerial photography and video production has become a lot more affordable in recent years with a wide range of equipment made by companies like DJI and Autel to suit everything from the smallest to very large budgets.
This has led to a huge uptake in hobbyist drone flying, but should you ask a friend to capture your drone footage for a production, or hire a professional Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licensed and insured drone operator? Let’s explore the pros and cons that are involved in making your decision.
Can drone hobbyists legally produce commercial drone work?
The short answer to that is yes, but that’s not always been the case.
Until fairly recently, all commercial drone operators had to have a CAA qualification or license known as Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) — and doing any commercial work without that was illegal.
When the rules changed at the end of 2020, new certifications were introduced meaning that now there is no limitation on who can produce commercial work with a drone. The new rules bring more emphasis on the types of drone that can be used in different locations and circumstances, and safety is always paramount in relation to other aircraft and people and property on the ground.
Without going into too much detail in this article, some of the considerations for safe and legal drone operations are as follows:
Weight of the drone
Drones weighing less than 250g can be flown with very few restrictions, and people with more advanced qualifications can increase this weight limit up to 500g.
Again, drones weighing less than 250g can be flown close to, and even briefly passing over uninvolved people, but not crowds of people. However, if you are working on a production with actors and they have been briefed about the use of drones and safety measures are in place, then you can fly closer with heavier, higher quality drones.
Safe air space
Keeping away from airports is a must, unless you have specific permission from the relevant Air Traffic Control. Flying within the controlled airspace of an airport (usually around a 5km radius of the longest runway) is quite common for professional operators and if the location of your video or photo shoot falls within this area, it would be highly advisable to hire a licensed professional.