The information below explains how 'commercial operations' are defined, how to get assessed for a CAA permission and your responsibilities as a commercial operator.
The term Commercial Operations allows a broad variety of flight applications, which are mostly based around aerial photography or the operation of sensors and other data-gathering devices.
Commercial operation is given the following meaning within article the Air Navigation Order:
“…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft except a flight for public transport, or any operation of any other aircraft except an operation for public transport-
(a) which is available to the public;
(b) which, when not made available to the public,
i. in the case of a flight by a small unmanned aircraft, is performed under a contract between the SUA operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the remote pilot;
ii. in any other case, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator,
in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.”
The key elements in understanding this term are '…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration'.
The term 'available to the public' should be interpreted as being a service or commodity that any member of the public can make use of, or actively choose to use, (e.g. because it has been advertised or offered to someone).
The essential question that needs to be asked is “what is the purpose of the (specific) flight?” i.e."If I were not receiving payment/valuable consideration, would I still be looking to fly?"
This is clearly within the remit of the permission and the operation can proceed within the limitations and conditions stated on the operator's permission.
This also would be considered a commercial operation even if it only comprised a small part of the service to the customer, e.g. advertising a customer's house or checking the property for the extent of works required. The operator of the drone would need to have a CAA permission for Commercial Operations. The estate agent or builder's firm should gain a permission or use the services of an existing permission holder.
While every case should be judged on its own merits, some types of arrangements are not generally considered by the CAA to be commercial operations such as:
Note: This would not apply if the photographic material had been directly commissioned by another party for the purposes of display or marketing on their website.
Example: A university research team wants to use a drone to gather survey data or imagery to help with their research project.
This is legitimate as long as the research project was not directly funded by a business that intends to use the results of the data for its own business purposes (including any material or research into its products or services). Clearly university research is funded through a variety of means (grants, charitable and alumni donations, etc) and for varying purposes. The exact arrangements would need to be considered in each case.
Where an academic organisation is openly advertising their capabilities to external organisations and a business relationship is entered into with an external organisation, the use of a drone for that purpose is likely to be construed as commercial operations. In order to alleviate difficulties with varied funding models, universities and other similar organisations should consider applying for permission from the CAA so that their services can be offered without constraint.
The first thing to note is that in most cases this will not be possible without having at least a standard permission from the CAA which will allow some types of flights within congested areas.
On its own, the standard permission does not give the right to fly unhindered and you will still require permission from the owner, manager or authority for the land from which the drone will be taking off and landing. The conditions of the permission will also require that you 'have control' over the area you intend to use the camera-drone, and this includes any people or vehicles in the area over which you intend to fly the aircraft. The minimum distances are stated on the permission.
Before filming you need to ensure that you have:
The CAA permission for camera-drone flights only addresses the flight safety aspects of the flight and does not constitute permission to disregard the legitimate interests of other statutory bodies such as the Police and Emergency Services, the Highway Agency, local authorities (and their agents) or any other statutory body.
In order to exercise the necessary 'control' over a nearby public environment, it will often be necessary to contact the local authority to make suitable arrangements such as road-closures or other restrictions of access. This is a normal part of ground-based filming in urban areas and the same procedures should be followed in the case of camera-drones. Due to the lead times advisable for making such arrangements, Location Managers and production staff should start this process as early as possible.
The following guidance is available from the British Film Commission (BFC):
Guidance for filming in the UK:
London drone-filming information and Borough film offices:
Detailed guidance on drone flying in London and other towns and cities can be found in CAP722.
Due to the large number of possible circumstances, the CAA can only give general guidelines, however a person or people under the control of the SUA operator or remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft can generally be considered to be:
Spectators or other people gathered for sports or other mass public events that have not been specifically established for the purpose of the drone operation are generally not regarded as being 'under the control of the SUA operator or remote pilot'.
In principle, someone who is under the control of the SUA operator or remote pilot at a mass public event must be able to:
To use an example: if filming with a drone at a large music festival or public event, it would not be sufficient for the audience/those present to be informed of a drone filming via a public-address system, or in advance by e-mail or text. Those types of communication channels do not satisfy the points above.
Permission has occasionally been granted for drone flights at public events by special arrangement. These permissions have been extremely limited and usually involve a segregated take-off site with the drone operating only vertically within strict lateral limits. There is no allowance for direct over-flight of persons in these circumstances.
National Qualified Entities (NQEs) are established to assess the competence of people operating small unmanned aircraft as part of the CAA's process in granting operating permissions.
Assessment by an NQE is necessary for those with no previous aviation training or qualifications. To achieve this, NQEs may offer a short educational course/programme prior to the competency assessment aimed at bringing an individual's knowledge up to the required level (but please note that these are not CAA approved training courses).
A typical NQE full-course involves:
After successfully completing the theory element, applicants will:
Flight assessments are normally arranged and completed at your own pace:
Details of CAA approved assessment organisations (NQEs) are shown below.
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