Drone scare stories 'exaggerated', says Harrogate operator

Professional Harrogate drone company owner Russell Wallace. (1710233AM1)
Professional Harrogate drone company owner Russell Wallace. (1710233AM1)

The owner of one of only a handful of professional drone businesses in North Yorkshire says the case for new laws for public safety has been exaggerated.

Russell Wallace, whose firm AutoSky North is currently working on a project for Harrogate Golf Club, says the rules regarding 'unmanned aerial vehicles' are already sufficient and the bigger problem is reckless operators and a lack of clarity about the rules.

Controversery has been mounting over drones after a rash of scare stories in the national press about near misses with aircraft, invasion of privacy and the delivery of drugs to prisons via the unmanned miniature vehicles.

Now that drones are available for anyone to buy from Amazon, the Government has even announced plans to introduce drone registration and safety awareness courses for owners.

But the man whose independent business provides aerial video and mapping services around Yorkshire says he doesn't think new legislation would be of much benefit.

"Most headlines tend to be sensationalised and disproportionate to the actual risk.

"In fact, there have been very few verified collisions of aircraft with drones.

"We need to be careful of having knee jerk legislation and all legislation needs to be carefully thought out to ensure that it would be practical and actually make sense

"Current drone laws in the UK means drone operators should already know to stay well away from aircraft at all times.

"Clear rules are defined in the Air Navigation Order which stipulates such things as not being allowed to fly within 50 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.

"Registering them may allow for the identification of a drone involved in an incident but it will only truly work if everybody registers their drone in the first place.

"But I'm quite sure that anyone dropping drugs into a prison would not get their drone registered."

In terms of personal privacy, Russell said he understood people's concerns but professional operators had a strict code of conduct which he himself was keen to meet during his current assignment for Harrogate Golf Club mapping each of the 18 holes from above for a new promotional video.

He said: "During our recent filming over Harrogate Golf Course we put leaflets in all the neighbouring houses beforehand.

"We actually got a couple of phone calls from residents who were concerned about drones taking pictures of their homes but once we explained that the drone was not taking pictures of their homes they were very understanding and did not have a problem with the activity.

"A professional drone operator respects the privacy of neighbours that live adjacent to the operations at hand and will work with them to address any concerns.

"All aspects of permissions are addressed during the risk assessment stage.

"Personal privacy is always going to be an issue with drones and again the main thing to point out here is that a professional drone operator will only take identifiable pictures with the permission of the subject. "

An expert in forensic technology, investigations and risk management, he built his own model aircraft and drones for 30 years before setting up his own business.

Prior to that he was a detective in the police force in Sydney Australia for 16 years.

The positives of drone use far outweighed the negatives, he said.

They were already being used for searching for missing people or pets and exploring dangerous buildings safely in the aftermath of a disaster.

And he argued that the industry as a whole had a good record.

Russell said: "Professional operators on the whole do not flout the laws and do not get involved in incidents and any overly oppressive laws could seriously impact upon a potential one billion dollar industry for the UK alone.

"I don’t think we should be reacting to the use of drones for obviously illegal activity such as smuggling contraband into prisons and being used as an accessory to a crime.

"We do not need new legislation just because people find more imaginative means of committing crime."

The industry itself had a good record, Russell argued.

He said: "Professional drone pilots rarely break the rules and should be differentiated from those reckless pilots who would not fall within this group.

"A professional drone pilot has passed both theory and practical flight tests and is trained in air law with regards to drone operation.

"We also have to submit a comprehensive Operations Manual to the CAA which covers all aspects of your operations including risk management, flight safety, flight operations, incident response and emergency handling.

"If this is accepted by the CAA then you are issued with a Permission for Commercial Operations.

"Professionals are also fully insured and work closely together to stay abreast of new rules and the industry in general."