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Drones know no road!

25 Feb 2016

With the proliferation of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – “drones” to you and me), used for commercial and recreational purposes, and with Amazon talking about delivery by drone, the question is increasingly arising of what rights do both operators and property owners have?

The use of drones is now regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, which also imposes restrictions including:

  • Keeping the drone in “line of sight”(generally 500m horizontally and 122m vertically)
  • If fitted with a camera, not to fly within 50m of a person and 150m of a congested area

If used for commercial purposes, the operator requires CAA permission.

But what about property rights? The long established right of a freehold owner of property is to the land and everything above and below it, although this has been extensively limited by legislation (relating to aircraft) and as to reality, the courts having effectively limited ownership of airspace to what is necessary for the use and enjoyment of the property.

So what happens if a drone which is spying on your neighbour, strays over your garden, or, if you are the owner of the building, over the car park of your office? Or if Amazon is making a delivery by drone to your neighbour? It seems unlikely that Amazon drones will follow the roads!

The answer is that unless the drone is being operated for a purpose within the scope of a statutory entitlement to enter private airspace (i.e. it is used for civil aviation, military or civic (e.g. police) purposes) it is almost certainly trespassing, particularly if its operator fails to comply with CAA guidelines.

Keeping the drone within sight might present Amazon with a problem!

But with the state of the law as it is at present, nothing is certain. To what extent a drone used for such purposes can enter private airspace – and how is that defined? – is far from clear.

The best bet, if a drone is buzzing around your property, is to try to identify its operator (no easy task), and cry “trespass!”. If you are tempted to take a pot-shot at it, you might be faced with a claim for damages!

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