Frequently Asked Questions

What is a drone?
What are drones used for?

What does the law say about flying drones?
Where can drones fly?
How low can drones fly?
How high can drones fly?
Who can own/operate drones?

How noisy are drones?

How does the safety of drones compare to other modes of transport?
What safety features do drones have?

How close can logistics drones fly to houses?
How often might a drone pass my house?
How quickly would a drone pass over my house?

What can drones carry?
Will delivery drones fly everywhere?
What are the potential benefits?

Do drones have cameras?
What happens to the data captured by a logistics drone?
Will it be able to 'see' into my house?

General Questions

What is a drone?

Drones are aircraft that are flown without a pilot or crew on board.  Drones (also know as Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles or UAVs) are flown remotely by a ground based human operator.   Drones come in many different shapes, sizes and configurations, ranging in weights from a few grams up to a few tonnes.  See Understanding Drones for more detailed information.

What are drones used for?

As well as recreational use by hobbyists, the use of drones by commercial operators has been expanding in recent years.  Commercial operators use drones for many, varied purposes because they can provide benefits such as speed, efficiency, safety, reduced energy consumption and the ability to access hard-to-reach locations.  Drone uses include: last-mile logistics making the final delivery of parcels to consumers; as platforms for video and photography; mapping terrain; agricultural purposes (e.g. crop spraying or inspecting crop emergence); inspection of infrastructure (e.g. inspecting pipe/power-lines or cell towers); environmental monitoring (e.g. detecting forest fires or monitoring air pollution); by the emergency response services (e.g. documenting accident sites or providing safe aerial views of fires); assisting with search and rescue missions; and for delivering humanitarian aid.  For examples of the use of drones in medical logistics, please see here (link to ‘Existing use cases for drones in medical logistics’).

 

Drones and Law

What does the law say about flying drones?

In the UK, drones that have a camera and weigh more than 250g are subject to varying levels of regulation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) depending on their size and and level of operational risk.  These updated regulations were adopted at the start of 2021 and align with those of the European Aviation Safety Agency providing for the same standards across Europe.  You can read more about drone regulation here.  A useful guide to the regulations has been produced by Coptz.com.

Where can drones fly?

Where drones can fly is dependent on the category that the drone falls into (see drone regulation).  'Open' category, A1 and A3 drones must not fly closer than 50m to people who are not involved in the drone activity and must keep a least 150m away from built up areas.  However,  small drones that are lighter than 250g, or C0 or C1 classes, can be flown in residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas and are allowed to fly closer to people.  Drones are not to be flown near airports and there are other examples of restricted airspace alongside local bylaws.   'Open' category drones must remain within the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) of the operator.   The Drone and Model Aircraft Code provides full details of where Open class drones can fly.

The drones used in the trials for this research are not Open Category drones and will be flying 'Beyond Visual Line of Sight' (BVLOS) and therefore will be subject to specific parameters granted by the CAA.  More details of which can be found here.

Who can own/operate drones?

Ultimately, anyone can own a drone as they have seen widespread adoption in consumer markets, however the kind of drones available directly to consumers are usually classed as toys.   Larger drones that can be used for logistics are usually owned and operated by drone operations companies. These companies typically provide the aircraft, use trained staff in the operation and work with companies looking to establish drone operations.

Who can fly a drone is dependent on the category that the drone falls into (see drone regulation).  There are no age limits for A1 drones within the 'Open' category and a minimum age of 13 for A2 and A3 and 14 to fly in the 'Specific' category.  There is a requirement for drone operators to register with the CAA where they are operating drones over 250g and where the drone has a camera.  Registration requires that the applicant passes a theory test.  More comprehensive training and qualifications are required to fly 'Specific' and 'Certified' categories of drones.  See drone regulation for details.

How low can drones fly?

Open category drones do not have a minimum height that they should fly at but must keep 50m away from people not involved in the flight and 150m away from built up areas.  Drones lighter than 250g or in Class C0 can fly closer to people with no specified minimum height.

Drones used for logistics will fall into the 'Specific' or 'Certified' categories with parameters relating to height and to be determined for each use case.  The E-Drone research project will help to establish appropriate standardised parameters in the future.  

How high can drones fly?

Open category drones must not fly above 120m.

Drones used for logistics will fall into the 'Specific' or 'Certified' categories with parameters relating to height and to be determined for each use case.  See information on Drone Trials for details of drone paths and heights related to this research.

 
 
 
 

Noise

How noisy are drones?

When a drone is cruising, you are unlikely to hear it while indoors. If you are outdoors, it will be a very faint and brief sound as it flies past. While the drone is taking-off or landing, it makes a noise similar to that of a lawnmower outside.

Typically, a drone is much quieter compared to a car driving past.  When taking-off or landing, the noise is similar to that of a lawnmower.

Privacy

Do drones have cameras?

It is possible to purchase small drones that do not have an integral camera, however many are still equipped to enable camera equipment to be attached.  Aerial photography represents a key attraction to drones in the hobbyist sector and is an important feature of drones being used for commercial purposes.  There is a requirement to register drones with cameras where the drone is heavier than 250g or where a drone is less than 250g but not considered to be a toy.  Drones flown in the 'Open Category' must remain in the Visual Line of Sight of the controller making it easier to identify the drone user.  

Drones used for logistics are also equipped with camera equipment to assist with navigation although more advanced drones use GPS to follow waypoints and operators may only refer to live video footage for part of the flight.

What happens to the data captured by a logistics drone?

The use of the data captured by drone cameras is something we intend to investigate during the E-Drone project.

Will a logistics drone be able to 'see' into my house?

The ability of drone cameras fitted to logistics drones to see into private houses is something we intend to investigate during the E-drone project.

View of the Isle of Wight from a Windracer drone (Courtesy of University of Southampton)

Safety

How does the safety of drones compare to other modes of transport?

In general, safety requirements in the aviation industry are very high, with an average fatality rate for passengers carried by UK operators of 1 in 287 million.  In comparison, in the UK there is a 1 in 17,000 chance of being killed in a road accident and a 1 in 19 million chance of being killed by a lightning strike. 

 

Despite this excellent record the UK is very proactive in identifying causes of aviation accidents so that safety can be continuously improved.  An assessment by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) found that the drones most likely to end-up in close proximity to crewed aircraft, potentially leading to collisions, are smaller drones (< 2kg) flown by operators who are either unaware of drone regulations or have chosen to ignore them.  For this category of smaller drones, the CAA analysis indicated that the likelihood of a drone being in proximity of a passenger aircraft was two per a million flights.  There have been no known collisions between small drones and crewed aircraft in the UK, and only seven confirmed cases of direct in-flight contact between drones and civil or military crewed aircraft worldwide.

(Reference: CAA 2018.  Aviation Safety)

What safety features do drones have?

The extent of drone safety features depends on the type of drone.  You can find out more about the safety features of drones used in logistics here.   

 
 

Drones in Logistics

What can drones carry?

Within the logistics industry, drones are being used to carry various commercial cargos and a number of use-cases are emerging.  Drones are being trialled to deliver parcels ordered online as a replacement for the vans that currently dominate last-mile parcel deliveries (https://wing.com/), and also for the rapid delivery of take-away food orders (https://www.urbanairmobilitynews.com/express-delivery/ireland-just-eat-latest-to-join-manna-aeros-drone-delivery-trial-in-oranmore-county-galway/). 

 

Transportation of larger freight consignments by drones is becoming possible as a replacement for transport by lorry or train, utilising larger-scale drones that are capable of carrying loads of around 200 kg over distances of 500 km (https://www.elroyair.com/).  Drones are being used in medical supply chains to transport medical cargos between health service sites, particularly where fast delivery is of life-saving importance or where sites are in hard-to-reach locations.  For examples of the medical cargos carried by drones, please see here (link to ‘Existing use cases for drones in medical logistics’).

Will delivery drones fly everywhere?

Drones need to share existing airspace alongside traditional crewed aviation.  However, the mechanism by which drones will be managed, controlled and integrated into shared airspace is yet to be decided.  The concept currently under development worldwide (including in the UK) is known as UAV Traffic Management (UTM). 

 

The UTM concept is designed to enable the management and co-ordination of drone operations within designated blocks of low-level airspace, integrated safely and efficiently with other users of the airspace.  Therefore, logistics drones are most likely to be operated within designated blocks of airspace such as a corridor (or network of corridors) connecting particular locations.  For details of the UTM concept, please see here. (link to ‘UAV Traffic Management’).

What are the potential benefits?

Specifically in the logistics sector, the main benefits of drones are three-fold: (1) speed of delivery (e.g. medical logistics where speed can be of life-saving importance); (2) replacing the use of vans/lorries for deliveries, potentially leading to reductions in congestion, energy consumption and road vehicle emissions; and (3) improving accessibility for deliveries to locations that are hard to reach by existing land-based infrastructure.  Investigating and quantifying the benefits that could be realised by drone operations are important aspects of the E-Drone project.

Drones and Property

How close can drones fly to houses?

Similarly to airliners, drones are able to fly over residential areas as airspace is considered a national asset. This means that drones may fly over your house at reasonable heights in such a way as to minimise the nuisance and risk posed to you and your property.

Currently, most drone flights are limited to fly below 400ft (120m), however there are currently very few flights that take place over densely populated areas. Legally, aircraft must maintain a reasonable height above people and property in such a way as to not cause nuisance or endangerment. Previous precedents have been set that a landowner does not own an unlimited height of airspace above their land [Lord Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews & General Ltd].

 

How often might a drone pass my house?

There is currently no consensus on the topic as this depends on the permitted use cases for drones, particularly in urban areas.  The E-Drone research project will explore these parameters.

How quickly would a drone pass my over my house?

Like vehicles on a motorway, there is a wide range of speeds that drones are able to achieve that depends on the type of drone and many other factors such as payload. For example, drones that are carrying heavier payloads are likely to fly slower than those that are empty. Drones that have wings will need to maintain minimum speed to ensure their wings keep them aloft, whereas multi rotor designs are able to fly at low speeds or even hover.

The weather, wind in particular, can have a great effect on the speed of aircraft over the ground, especially when flying into the wind as this can reduce the speed over the ground proportional to the speed of the wind.  Drones being used for logistics are likely to pass quickly overhead when in mid-flight.