HexCam Reaching New Heights Under New Drone Restrictions


New regulations restricting the use of drones near to airports and other aerodromes were introduced by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on the 13th March this year. This change in rules was fast-tracked following the well-publicised ‘Gatwick drone sightings’ in December last year and affects all drone users from children playing with toy drones in their back gardens and hobbyists, right through to experienced commercial drone operators such as HexCam. What some people may not realise is that all drones types are covered, including the smallest ‘toy’ drones, as soon as they are flown outside in a restricted area. The new restrictions can actually open some interesting opportunities - but more on that later.

Where do these new regulations apply?

Flights of drones around airports or airfields that are designated as ‘protected aerodromes’ are now even more tightly regulated than before. The newly defined ‘Flight Restriction Zones’ or ‘FRZs’ are now blanket ‘no-go’ areas for drones and it is illegal to fly in them unless you have clear permission in advance to do so. The new FRZs are made up of the areas shown in this diagram taken from the CAA’s website:

20190416 - CAA FRZ image.jpg
  • Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) - Think of this as a 2 or 2.5 nautical mile (2.3 or 2.9 miles) radius ‘cylinder’ around the aerodrome centred on the longest runway and extending up to 2,000ft above ground level.

  • Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) - These are 1km wide rectangles extending 5km from the ends of each runway away from the aerodrome and aligned along the runway centreline. These zones also extend 2,000ft above ground level.

  • Additional Zones - Imagine a line that runs parallel to the aerodrome boundary and 1km away from it. There may be situations where this line extends out beyond the ATZ or the RPZ in which case the FRZ will have a bump to follow this line.

The zones vary slightly from airport to airport and you have a legal obligation to check if they affect you before attempting any drone flight within the FRZ, however low or however small. There are many official sources of FRZ information online including the Drone Safe website and the NATS Drone Portal.

So how do you go about seeking and obtaining clear and explicit permission in advance to fly within the FRZ?

Unfortunately there’s no easy answer as it tends to very from aerodrome to aerodrome. The best starting point is to contact the airport or airfield concerned during normal operating hours and ask to talk to Air Traffic Control (ATC) or the Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS). Outside of aerodrome operating hours, you’ll need to contact the aerodrome operator. Some airports (Norwich included) will ask you to submit your request, including full details of any planned flight, to a dedicated email address rather then simply call up ATC. Forward planning is essential and, as the time taken to obtain permission can vary significantly, commercial drone operators will need to manage their clients’ expectations carefully. ATC has no obligation to grant permission to fly within the FRZ but there is clear guidance for aerodrome operators from the CAA on how to manage requests to fly drones within the FRZ.

HexCam - Flying within the Norwich FRZ up to 800 feet

HexCam needed to put the new FRZ permissions process to the test just two weeks after their introduction in March when one of our clients asked us to capture some aerial images of a development site that’s only 0.8 nautical miles (about 1,500m) south of the centre point of the main runway at Norwich International Airport. Our required viewpoint took us to well within the FRZ.

Image © Google Earth

Image © Google Earth

We’ve worked closely with Norwich Air Traffic Control since 2012 and have always called to notify them of our flights even when there was no obligation for us to do so. It was with some nervousness then that, rather than call in as normal, we were asked to send an email detailing our planned flights and requesting permission to their new dedicated drones email address. We had the opportunity of being the first to try out this method and, as we would be under the direct control of Norwich ATC, were also able to request permission to fly higher than the standard 400 feet restriction in our CAA Permission For Commercial Operation.

Norwich ATC were very helpful, reviewing our request and granting us permission, including flying up to 800 feet, within 48 hours. This meant that not only could we reassure our client that we would be able to take advantage of the next suitable weather window, but that we could also offer them an even higher viewpoint of the site and surrounding road network - something that they were keen to emphasise.

It certainly felt a bit ‘naughty’ to be flying up at 800 feet but visibility was good and we had perfect Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) contact with the drone as well as a clear view of the surrounding airspace. While we were up there, and to say thank you to ATC and to Catton Park, we captured a couple of shots of the airport as well as the park, who had also helped us with finding a suitable place from which to take off and land.

If you’d like to know more about how HexCam can give you a new perspective then please contact or call us on 01603 327676.

CAA grounding the DJI Inspire 2 and DJI M200 series

On the 31st of October, The CAA published a safety notice, restricting the use of the DJI Inspire 2 and the DJI M200 series. The restriction stated that all SUA (drone pilots) are not allowed to fly these drones over or within 150m of congested areas, until further notice. Since then, DJI Global have been working closely with The CAA to get these restrictions lifted.

For us at HexCam, we were able to speak with KingFisher APS (our London-based collaborator) and arrange for the Inspire 2 to be swapped for the Phantom 4, that was located at our Norwich offices. This meant that operations continued undisturbed and our clients haven’t had to reschedule any of the drone mapping, inspections and surveys we’ve committed to. Here Andy is flying the Inspire 2, well out of the way of any humans in a rural location, testing the batteries.

Stay abreast of the restrictions here:

How to make sure UAV aerial photography projects run smoothly

JULY 4, 2012 / 1 COMMENT

I haven’t blogged for a while so, while the weather is against me, I thought I’d sit down and write a short blog about how we approach each project so that you can understand the process we have to go through.

When I became qualified to fly my UAV commercially and was approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for aerial work I had to submit my Operations Manual. I passed a flight test carried out against my own manual and had the Ops Manual approved by both the CAA and EuroUSC who administrated the qualification.

In order to keep my qualification and permission I have to adhere to the processes in my manual. I try to keep this as simple as possible for customers as I know that, at the end of the day, you really just want your photos or video!

So, I will do as much as possible to minimise the paperwork and allow us to get on with the interesting bit. This is also the reason why I am not able currently to put prices on my website. Every project is different. Some require only an hour or so of planning in the office, particularly if they are repeat projects. Others require days of planning and communication with other agencies. Generally we cannot just run out and fly a project for you as we would probably end up breaching CAA legislation, but we will try to mobilise as soon as possible if that is required.

When you first contact me it is very useful if you are able to give me an exact postcode for the site of the operation so that I can check the site online. I will also need permission of the site owner. There isn’t really any such thing a “public land”, generally there is somebody who has ownership or responsibility for the land. This may be a private land-owner or a parish, district or county council. If the land-owner is you that makes life easier! I also need to know other things. Is it a fixed date? Do you require video or still photographs? Do you need editing? If you are able to think about these things a bit before contacting me it is very helpful.

I will find out all of the above by giving you a “Form 1” (imaginative, I know!). All being well, it is the only paperwork you will have to fill out.

We will then need to carry out a site survey and risk assessment and fill in a “Form 2”. This is for our benefit as the CAA have the right to request paperwork for each operation we carry out. If the operation is relatively simple then it may be possible to carry this out on the day, otherwise we may need to make a site visit. This will all be budgeted for in my initial quote. There will be no surprises in terms of price unless you ask us to do extra work on top of what we have already quoted for.

Once we have made sure the project is feasible we will:

  1. Carry out a site survey and risk assessment
  2. Check the airspace and NOTAMs to make sure we are safe to work in that area
  3. Make sure the land-owner’s permission is obtained
    (your help with that is normally necessary)
  4. Check the weather!
  5. Carry out pre-flight checks on all our equipment
  6. Fly the operation as competently and safely as possible
  7. Ensure we have obtained the images you require
  8. Carry out post-flight checks
  9. Make sure we have left the site tidy

We will then provide you with draft images and the final images will be released on payment of your invoice. I am afraid we have to work this way now as one slightly unscrupulous customer exploited our good will.

With most of our imagery, we retain the copyright on the images and grant our customers an unlimited licence to use the images for their own purposes as long as it doesn’t involve reselling all or part of the images. In that case we would need to have further discussions before carrying out the project.

I hope this helps you to understand how we treat each project. As far as I am concerned, the safety of our customers, crew and the public are paramount so I will endeavour to provide you with great imagery at a fair price without compromising on safety.

I look forward to hearing from you.