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  • Revealed: who can fly drones in UK airspace

    Missile manufacturer, police forces and golf video company among more than 130 groups licensed to use technology

    A surveillance drone used by Merseyside police, one of three forces that have permission to use UAVs. Photograph: John Giles/PA

    Defence firms, police forces and fire services are among more than 130 organisations that have permission to fly small drones in UK airspace, the Guardian can reveal.

    The Civil Aviation Authority list of companies and groups that have sought approval for the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, has not been published before – and it reflects the way the technology is now being used. The BBC, the National Grid and several universities are now certified to use them – as is Video Golf Marketing, which provides fly-over videos of golf courses.

    Including multiple or expired licences, the CAA has granted approval to fly small UAVs more than 160 times.

    “People are going to see more and more of these small vehicles operating around the country,” said John Moreland, general secretary of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVS), a trade body with more than 100 members. “There are any number of uses for them, and the technology is getting easier to use and cheaper all the time. These vehicles can operate anywhere in the UK, within reason.”

    However, privacy campaigners have grave concerns about the proliferation of the technology and want an urgent review of regulations. “The increasing use of drones by private companies and government bodies poses a unique set of problems,” said Eric King, head of research at campaign group Privacy International.

    “The CAA considers health and safety issues when deciding whether or not to grant licences to operate drone technology, but this is a very low bar. We need new regulation to ensure privacy and other civil liberties are also taken into account during the decision-making process.”

    In the last two years the CAA has required anyone who wants to fly a small UAV in British airspace to apply for permission. The aircraft must weigh less than 20kg and operators have to abide by certain rules. These include not flying them higher than 122 metres (400ft), or further away from the operator than 500 metres – this is deemed the pilot’s “line of sight”.

    The CAA list shows that three police forces, Merseyside, Staffordshire and Essex, have permission to use UAVs, as do three fire services, Dorset, West Midlands and Hampshire.

    Some of Europe’s biggest defence companies can also fly them, including BAE Systems, Qinetiq and missile manufacturer MBDA. A company that supplies UAVs and other equipment to the Ministry of Defence, Marlborough Communications, is also registered, along with crime-scene and counter-terrorism specialist GWR & Associates.

    Shane Knight, a spokesman for Marlborough, said: “If you can put these systems up in the sky, and they are safe, then they have many uses. If you are a police force, a fire or ambulance service, and, for instance, you are responding to a large fire, then you have a choice of sending out your people to do reconnaissance of an area, or you could use one of these small UAVs. Why put people in danger when you can use one of these systems? These UAVs are getting much better, and much smaller.”

    The National Grid uses them to inspect power lines, while the Scottish Environment Protection Agency wants one to patrol and photograph remote areas, said Susan Stevens, a scientist in the agency’s marine ecology department. “The UAV equipment is currently being trialled,” she said.

    “As an operational service it will have many uses, such as capturing aerial imagery of estuaries, wetlands and riverbanks, and to provide a snapshot of the environment before and after development work,” she said.

    Moreland said the unmanned systems suffered from the perception that they were all “killer robots” flying in the sky, but he thought this would diminish as the public got used to seeing them.

    “We are going to see all sorts of systems coming out over the years,” he said. “The operating bubble is going to expand like mad. Some of these systems will be able to look after themselves, and others will rely on the quality of the operators.

    “You don’t have to be a qualified pilot … The person could come from a modelling background, or he may be a video game player. There are plenty of people you could imagine being able to control these systems in a delicate way.”

    Gordon Slack, who owns Video Golf Marketing, said he had taught himself to use his UAV. “Once you know how to operate it, it is not too complicated. We’ve done six videos for golf courses, with a few more in the pipeline.”

    (Owner ID number/Company name)

    1 HoverCam

    2 Meggitt Defence Systems

    3 EagleEye (Aerial Photography) Ltd

    4 Remote Services Limited

    5 High Spy RC Aerial Photography

    6 Magsurvey Limited

    7 Pi In The Sky

    8 Qinetiq

    9 Eye In The Sky

    10 AngleCam

    11 Helicam Ltd

    12 Flying Minicameras Ltd

    13 S & C Thermofluids Ltd

    14 Remote Airworks (pty) Ltd

    15 National Grid

    16 Dragonfly Aerial Photography

    17 BlueBear Systems Research

    18 William Walker

    19 European UAV Systems Centre Ltd

    20 In-House Films Ltd

    21 MBDA UK Ltd

    22 European UAV Systems Centre

    23 Dorset Fire & Rescue Service

    24 Conocophillips Limited

    25 Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service

    26 West Midlands Fire Service

    27 Advanced Ceramics Research

    28 UA Systems Ltd (Swisscopter)

    29 Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd

    30 Flight Refuelling Limited

    31 BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd

    32 Lindstrand Technologies Ltd

    33 Upper Cut Productions

    34 Cranfield University

    35 Peregrine Media Ltd

    36 Horizon Aerial Photography

    37 Rory Game

    38 Alan Stevens

    39 Helipix LLP

    40 Re-use*

    41 Mike Garner

    42 Cyberhawk Innovations Ltd

    43 Staffordshire Police TPU

    44 Merseyside Police

    45 Health and Safety Laboratory

    46 David Hogg

    47 MRL Ltd

    48 MRL Ltd

    49 Re-use*

    50 Dominic Blundell

    51 Re-use*

    52 Re-use*

    53 Skylens Aerial Photography

    54 Bonningtons Aerial Surveys

    55 Small UAV Enterprises

    56 British Technical Films

    57 CARVEC Systems Ltd

    58 Flying-Scots’Cam

    59 Pulse Corporation Ltd (t/a Overshoot Photography)

    60 Motor Bird Ltd

    61 Advanced Aerial Imagery

    62 AM-UAS Limited

    63 Re-use*

    64 Gatewing NV

    65 Questuav Ltd

    66 Advanced UAV Technology Ltd

    67 Air 2 Air

    68 MW Power Systems Limited

    69 Re-use*

    70 Roke Manor Research Ltd

    71 Re-use*

    72 NPIA

    73 Pete Ulrick

    74 Re-use*

    75 SSE Power Distribution

    76 University of Worcester

    77 Re-use*

    78 Rovision Ltd

    79 Callen-Lenz Associates Ltd (Gubua Group)

    80 SKM Studio

    81 GWR Associates

    82 Phoenix Model Aviation

    83 Copycat

    84 HD Skycam

    85 Re-use*

    86 Gary White

    87 Aerial Target Systems Ltd

    88 Aerial Target Systems

    89 Re-use*

    90 Video Golf Marketing Ltd

    91 Re-use*

    92 Helivisuals Ltd

    93 Essex Police

    94 Marlborough Comms Ltd

    95 Re-use*

    96 Siemans Wind Power A/S

    97 Altimeter UK Ltd t/a Visionair

    98 T/A Remote Imaging

    99 Re-use*

    100 Daniel Baker

    101 Sky Futures

    102 Aerovironment Inc

    103 Spherical Images Ltd

    104 Flying Camera Systems

    105 Highviz Photography

    106 ESDM Ltd

    107 Flying Camera Systems Limited

    108 Edward Martin

    109 Digital Mapping and Survey Ltd

    110 EDF NNB GenCo Ltd

    111 EDF

    112 Re-use*

    113 AerialVue Ltd

    114 Minerva NI Limited

    115 Flying Fern Films Ltd

    116 Out Filming Ltd

    117 Hexcam Ltd

    118 McKenzie Geospatial Surveys Ltd

    119 Resource UAS

    120 Plum Pictures

    121 Jonathan Malory

    122 Mas-UK Ltd

    123 Bailey Balloons Ltd

    124 David Bush

    125 Southampton University

    126 Helipov

    127 Costain Ltd

    128 Sky-Futures

    129 Jonathan Blaxill

    130 Roke Manor Research Ltd

    131 Colin Bailie

    132 British Broadcasting Corp

    133 Simon Hailey

    134 Re-use*

    135 Trimvale Aviation

    136 PSH Skypower Ltd

    137 Aerosight Ltd

    171 Re-use*

    173 Colin Bailie

    174 Simon Field

    175 Re-use*

    176 Aerial Graphical Services

    177 Think Aerial Photography

    178 Hedge Air Limited

    179 Scottish Environment Protection Agency

    180 Skypower Limited

    181 Elevation Images

    182 Universal Sky Pictures

    183 MBDA UK Ltd

    184 Helicammedia

    185 Oculus Systems Ltd

    186 MASA Ltd

    187 Doozee Aerial Systems Ltd

    188 Selex Galileo

    189 Whisperdrone

    190 Z-Axis

    191 Rotarama Ltd

    192 Re-use*

    193 BBC (Natural History Unit)

    194 Flying Camera Company

    195 Flying Camera Company

    * Short-term approval that was granted, but now no longer applies

    Source: CAA

    Nick Hopkins
    The Guardian, Friday 25 January 2013 20.02 GMT

    Find this story at 25 January 2013

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