Drones give events the flight stuff

Drones give events the flight stuff

The increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles – known as ‘drones’ – at events provides opportunities and challenges for event organisers. John Keenan reports

Correctly managed, drones can provide a great platform for capturing photos and video at festivals, bespoke hospitality events, incentive travel, sponsorship activations or even conferences and trade shows. But, as a growing number of incidents at events worldwide have underlined, legal considerations and safety considerations must remain paramount.

Sharon Friedman, safety manager at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MECC), said: “As a whole, the events industry has definitely seen an increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with enquiries at MCEC increasing by 60% in the last 12 months.”

“Our customer and visitor safety is top priority at MCEC. We have a very strict policy in place for the use of any UAV’s at the venue, with a number of permits and licences required to operate.”

“No UAV is permitted to fly within 30 metres of any body of people at any time at MCEC, and they are not permitted to fly above crowds.

“If an exhibitor would like to showcase a UAV at MCEC it must be isolated from the public or tethered to the exhibition stand.”

The law in South Africa concerning drones appears on the relaxed side.

Robin Mcleod, manager at Green Route DMC in South Africa said drones are becoming increasingly popular at events.

He said: “Videographers and photographers use them extensively. South Africa does not have clear and/or strictly enforced legal framework for controlling drones, so there have been no hassles using them ever at any of our projects. In saying that, we have only used drones at corporate events and on privately owned land.

“The correct procedure, especially at large public events would be to have a licensed operator with project specific clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority.

“Indoors is normally not practical for our suppliers, but outdoor crowd and venue shots are perfect for drone work.
“We are also proposing crowd gift drops and stage live feeds in recent proposals, so the best is yet to come from drones I think.”

In the USA, federal, state and city drone regulations vary greatly, and the drone operator is responsible for how it is used, as well as any incidents that might occur during its flight. There have been enormous complications recently, not just with plane near misses but firefighters fighting forest fires having their lives endangered by reckless stupidity of wayward drone operators, flying drones into the actual fires.

To help govern the growing number of drone users who aren’t familiar with unmanned aircraft regulations, the FAA released a Notice of Prepared Rulemaking on 15 Feb 2015 The details are vague, but brands looking to use drones for commercial purposes are required to obtain express permission from the FAA before doing so.
European regulators vary by country but an uniform framework will most likely be adopted by Brussels in the fullness of time. Other countries have or will adopt their own standards based on best practice and local needs. So event organisers should familiarise themselves with the local regulations and adopt sensible best practice regardless.

In the UK, the CAA said it had recorded six incidents between May 2014 and March 2015 at airports around the UK in which drones and piloted craft almost collided.

“Drone users must understand that when taking to the skies they are entering one of the busiest areas of airspace in the world,” said Tim Johnson, director of policy at the CAA.

Randle Stonier, CEO at UK-based event agency AddingValue, said: “A key reference source is the air navigation order on the Civil Aviation Authority website. The drone operation must not endanger anyone or anything and must be kept within the visual line of sight of its remote photographer/operator.
Operations beyond these distances must be approved by the CAA and the basic premise is for the ‘droneographer’ to prove that he/she can do this safely. A certificate of ‘photo drone pilotage competency’ is effectively being introduced.

“Small unmanned aircraft (irrespective of their mass) that are being used for surveillance purposes are subject to even tighter restrictions and, permission maybe required from the CAA before operations are commenced.”

Stonier points out that CAA permission is also required for all flights that are being conducted for aerial work and the ‘remote pilot’ has the responsibility for satisfying him/herself that the flight can be conducted safely.”

He set out the criteria that organisers of events in the UK should be aware of.

The aircraft must not be flown:
• over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
• over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
• within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft;
• within 50 metres of any person except during take-off or landing; the aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person except for the person in charge of the aircraft.
• The event organiser or event producer will need to ensure they have appropriate insurance cover and that the ‘droneographer’ is suitably insured too.

There are a considerable number of UK restricted airspaces. This information can be found at www.skydemonlight.com. This shows that most of central London for example, is a no-go zone without CAA approved activity.

Stonier said that event organisers should bear in mind that the collection of identifiable individuals’ images, even inadvertently, when using surveillance cameras mounted on a small unmanned surveillance aircraft, will be subject to the Data Protection Act. As this act contains requirements concerning the collection, storage and use of such images, small unmanned aircraft operators should ensure that they are complying with any such applicable requirements or exemptions. This gives rise to a host of extra issues.

Drones can be used internally within your event space – again insurances, risk assessments and data protection considerations will apply in the UK, as well as the terms and conditions of venue hire.

Communal event spaces are likely to be no-go zones. Line of sight, aerials and wires, light and dark, droneographers blinded by the spotlights, and audiences putting their hands in the air, are other factors to be borne in mind.

Stonier said: “ In short, ‘droneography’ is do-able but there are more than a few hoops to ensure you’re compliant.”