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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01603 327676.