The sky’s the limit

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Drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles – are a hot topic. Rapid growth in their use for a myriad of different purposes is unquestioned, while if flown irresponsibly, particularly close to airports, there is a chance of causing serious damage and even loss of life.

Drones are not a new invention, indeed they have been used, automated or remotely piloted, for military purposes for over a hundred years now. Nowadays, in addition to their use for aerial photography, mapping and crop inspection, for instance, attention has turned to using drones to deliver people and packages to specific and often remote locations. Online retail giant Amazon has experimented with package deliveries by drone and in China the world’s first passenger drone has been unveiled.

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, but consumer models tend to be lightweight quadcopters equipped with a camera and costing from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand euro. In this segment Chinese manufacturer DJI is the major player.

A keen photographer and video blogger, Tony Melville acquired his first drone in the spring of 2018 and has been improving his skills as a pilot ever since. Flying a drone safely is relatively easy thanks to a high level of automation but flying a drone well – in order to obtain quality video pictures – is extremely demanding. Many functions, such as take-off and bringing the drone back to its starting point and landing, can normally be accomplished both automatically and manually. The major challenges are dealing with obstacles, such as trees and buildings, electrical interference and difficult weather conditions such as high winds.

Drone flying is governed by strict rules. Generally speaking the maximum permissible flight altitude is 150m and the drone must remain within view at all times (VLOS = visual line of sight). Around airports and in special control zones (the Jyväskylä area, for instance) stricter rules apply. Flying over masses of people is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Liability insurance is also highly recommended given the potential for a drone to collide with people and property.

Drone use is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years. One British estimate predicted drones could provide a 2% boost to GDP, create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process and contribute 42 billion pounds to the economy by 2030. Drones are – quite literally – on the up and up.

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