Drone pilots will no doubt be aware of the recent conviction of a drone operator earlier this month for offences under the Air Navigation Order relating to interference with a police helicopter.
The case was heard at Peterborough Magistrates' Court and whilst the decision does not bind any other court, drone operators should be aware that the case is a good example of how irresponsible flying may be treated.
The drone operator was found to have flown his drone underneath a police helicopter when it was attempting to locate a missing person. The helicopter pilot initially assumed it was being used by the fire brigade or police, and lost sight of it. Once the pilot was made aware it was not emergency service equipment, he took evasive action. The helicopter pulled away from the search and located the drone and operator, before directing ground officers to the operator's house.
The operator was arrested, and his property searched. The drone was found at the property.
The drone operator was found guilty after trial of 2 charges - a failure to maintain direct unaided visual contact with the drone and of flying a drone when the operator was not reasonably satisfied that the flight could be safely made.
The court imposed a fine of £184 and ordered him to pay a £30 victim surcharge and £280 of court costs. In addition to that the court ordered the operator to forfeit his drone - a £900 DJI Phantom 4.
In light of this conviction, drone operators should be aware that even though it may be tempting to gain a view of emergency situations from the air, flying near to emergency situations or flying recklessly can lead to criminal liability and prosecution.
Drone operators should therefore take care to maintain appropriate control and sight of the drone and make sure that flights can be safely made given the conditions. Failure to do so could result in a costly court appearance. As demonstrated by Peterborough Magistrates' Court, a fine may not be the end of the matter - the drone itself may be confiscated.