New Flight Restriction Zones - What Do They Mean For Drone Operators?

Mar 13, 2019 -- Posted by : crew

Flight Restriction Zones - The Changes

The boundary of the Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ) has now been extended to approx 3 miles from the centre point of the longest runway and up to 2000ft above the level of the aerodrome. There is also an additional runway protection zone that measures 5km by 1km wide extending from the end of each runway.

Flying drones commercial can be a challenging enough job already but with the new amendment coming into effect today - 13th March 2019 - it now means that you are NOT able to fly any drone at any time within the boundaries of a Flight Restriction Zone around a protected aerodrome unless you have permission to do so. How does this differ from before?

Well, If I had to undertake a flight in a controlled airspace prior to the changes, because our aircraft fell below a certain weight limit (7kg), my communication with the Air Traffic Control would often only need to be as a matter of professional courtesy. However now, even if I wish to make a simple test flight, I am required to obtain permission before taking off and flying - or find open space (often also impossible due to other restrictions) miles away from said restricted zone. Is this a good thing? Yes.... and no!

Yes, because of course no unauthorised aircraft should be within any restricted distance of sensitive areas such as airports. Thats just obvious & sensible on many levels and carries a heavy penalty if you are caught doing so. But no, in as much as professional operators, we often undertake a flight on short notice maybe because of client demand or weather conditions. That alone has now become more difficult for us to do because we have EVEN more background work in advance of a flight and we have to get permission to fly which of course, could be refused so timelines come into play. Furthermore, the process for some airports could take much longer to grant and be complex to gain required permission and so planning in the fist instance is going be a much tougher, probably a frustrating, process for us that fly commercially. More detail on that below:

Flying in a Restricted Zone

So the law effectively now extends the area within which a drone operator now has to seek permissions to fly within. However, these permissions will hopefully remain obtainable from the relevant Air Traffic Control Unit (ATC) or Flight Information Service (FIS), but he's the fly in the ointment:

It appears likely that this will be covered under what is known as a 'Non Standard Flight' permissions put through the new NATS portal due to come online shortly and could poetically be very time consuming disrupting many operators plans or flight schedule. CAA Approved Operators like Skyline Pictures will need to apply to the ATC or FIS which will no doubt deal with responses and permissions, until told otherwise in cases where there will be someone in the control tower during the flight or to the aerodrome operator where there is no ATC unit, or the flight will be taking place outside of operational hours. In addition, aircraft will need to be 'unlocked' by the manufacturers - DJI for example - to allow our aircraft to take off :-(

Conclusion -

Yes, safety is paramount. Yes, no unauthorised aircraft of any size should be within an airports airspace. Skyline Pictures are not trying to suggest for one minute that our work with drones should take preference over any FRZ - we understand the need for control - but a blanket ban on this scale might not have been the best solution. Trained CAA Operators already know and act according within the rules and regulations and regularly work close to and alongside airports and airport control. We have flown many times safely in restricted airspace. Operators like Skyline Pictures are not the enemy here! But sadly, we are being made to look like it and paying the price for an alleged drone causing the disruption at Gatwick. This is, in our minds, an over reaction to those events and is penalising Professional Operators.

All these new exclusions will do is make it more awkward, time consuming and frustrating for the professional, registered, safe operators. If someone wants to disrupt an airport with a rogue drone - something that was never proved conclusive in the recent Gatwick 'incident' I might add, then an exclusion zone, no matter how big, is not going to stop them.

No doubt changes are coming for commercial drone operators and already pilots are reporting facing challenges in obtaining flight permissions in a Flight Restricted Zone. With any legal changes, there is always an adjustment period while new processes and procedures bed in for all parties. Time will tell how many drone business suffer as a result of these new laws.


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