Drones flying high in Oundle

In the last few years, the use of drones has become increasingly common. While there are a wide variety of uses for drones in commercial and military spheres, individuals are now buying models as they become more affordable.

Mike from Drone GB near Oundle is a retired professional aerial photographer who has moved into drone technology, and occasionally takes on clients who want aerial views of their property. He has found that the field is expanding rapidly. ‘I bought my first drone 2 or 3 years ago, and just bought a new one 6 months ago. The technology has leapt forward. The things this new drone can do are quite incredible.’

In Oundle many enthusiasts use them for aerial still photography and filming. Drones are also useful for estate agents and event planners who can document occasions in a more stylish and memorable manner.

Spark Angels, a repair company located at The Wharf on Station Road in Oundle has moved in to the field and provides services such as drone repairs.

‘We focus on the DJI brand of drones, which in my opinion are like the Apple equivalent of the drone world – market leaders purchased at a premium price, which means they are worth repairing and not disposable,’ said Neil Barker, founder of the Spark Angels Group including Spark Angels Oundle.

drones 1 - Juraj Hupka

Though there is business profitability in the repair of drones, companies like Spark Angels are keen on stimulating the advancement of drone technology by encouraging users to repair drones themselves.

Mr Barker said: ‘Spark Angels fill a niche, just like we always have done within the Apple world and the Apple devices we repair, which is at the core of our business. We are about to embark on selling spares for drones. You can buy some parts but you can’t easily buy smaller parts like bolts and brackets and certain other parts.

‘When it comes to the DJI drones the eventual evolution is to provide guides for people to be able to have a go at making the drone repairs themselves.’

This is indicative of a progressive approach towards the use of drones, not only to sustain usage, but to build up knowledge in order to prevent any negative effects of ill-informed use of drones.

The Civil Aviation Authorities have put in place specific rules to ensure that drones do not cause any harm to their users or individuals within close proximity. Drones used recreationally under 20 kg must not be flown within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person not in control of the pilot. The drone cannot be flown more than 400 feet in altitude or further than 500 metres horizontally.

As a commercial operator, Mike has a commercial CAA license for drones, but he believes this requirement should be extended to private individuals.

‘I believe all drones should be licensed, like a car. If it is to be flown further than 50 metres, the owner should have a license.’

In recent times, pilots have increasingly complained about irresponsible flying of drones following a series of near collisions between drones and passenger jets, particularly on approach or take-off from major airports, including Heathrow. Twenty-two incidents involving commercial airliners and possible drones were investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority’s Airport Box Board in the first four months of this year.

Development of the technology is helping to prevent these risks. Mike said: ‘The software and satellite control is now so sophisticated. Drones have obstacle avoidance software as well as alerts that prevent drones from flying into restricted areas such as airports.’

As well as safety, there are also concerns about privacy issues regarding the use of drones. There are restrictive laws in order to protect an individual’s privacy under the Data Protection Act, which drone users should be aware of to ensure they are using drones responsibly.

Mr Barker said: ‘I believe that all of the rules in the drone code are extremely important to keep people and property safe. It is also very important in such a fledgling sector not to stifle innovation and future uses of this technology which I only see expanding.’

For instance, Amazon and Google are developing plans to use drones for distribution and delivery. The consulting firm Radiant Insights predicts that drone sales will reach nearly $5 billion by 2020, highlighting the accelerating rate at which the drone industry is
expanding today.

Jordan Badiru
December 2017