Drones are a subset of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Their attributes are context-dependent and may refer to a range of vehicles from the consumer electronics market (essentially remote-controlled toys) to larger unmanned aircraft such as ones used for surveillance and remote weapons deployment by the military.
Within the UK at present, drones in the former category can only be remotely operated at an altitude of up to 400ft (0.12 km) within Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS) unrestricted class G airspace. This type of airspace is the least regulated in the UK and allows pilots and drone operators to fly largely on demand and with minimal planning restrictions. Pilots with a suitable Operational Authorisation from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) may be permitted to fly in more controlled airspace for an agreed time period.
Drones in the latter category (often called Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS)) are operated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or military services (Army, RAF etc) in the UK. Integrating these operations in domestic airspace is an ongoing challenge and at present they are restricted to designated areas that are published in the CAA Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP).
Application and Operation of Drones
Drones are now commonly used in a number of industries, including for aerial photography, surveying, agricultural crop spraying, military surveillance and reconnaissance, search and rescue and medical evacuation services, package delivery.
Commercial drone operators currently require a licence to pilot a drone; they may not be flown in restricted or controlled airspace such as around airports or military installations without appropriate formal permission. Drone operators can be fined up to £1000 for this offence in the UK.
Drone operation laws and regulations may vary from country to country, and even within states within the US.
Developments in Drone Technology
Drones in the sense of the second classification have been around since the development of remote-controlled target aircraft in the 1930s. The infamous ‘Queen Bee’ aircraft was modelled on the DH Tiger Moth for gunnery trials in 1933-43.
Developments are underway in which we can see fully autonomous drone operations taking place. Drone technology is continuously developing and evolving, alongside laws and regulations.
Several technological developments are being tested for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations, as countries are seen amending their drone policies to allow for UAVs to fly further and to afford the pilot increased protections when operating in dangerous circumstances
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