Drones, also called unmanned aerial systems (UAS), can provide spectacular views for TV production otherwise unobtainable.

The BBC has a team of operators especially trained to use drones. In a special BBC Academy Fusion session, members of this team explained what journalists should take into account when using drones in their stories.

1. A toy with CAA permission

The control system can be connected with an iPad (Photo: Barbara Maseda)
The control system can be connected with an iPad (Photo: Barbara Maseda)

The control system of a drone is similar to a gaming console, but with a radio signal, GPS and multiple sensors.

Although drones are technically easy to manage, you need a permission of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which should be renewed annually.

The CAA controls the permissions not only because drones are aerial systems, but also because drone operators should be able to read navigation maps, i.e. the maps used by planes.

 

2. What you can/can’t do with drones

Drones have some technical and legal aspects that it’s worth knowing.

Legislation

  • Drones cannot fly over congested areas without a specific authorization
  • Permission of the landowner for taking off and landing is always needed
  • Drones cannot fly directly overhead or within 50 meters of any person, vessel or structure not controlled by the pilot

Technical limitations

  • Battery life is between 5 and 20 minutes. If the production takes all day, it is likely to need a generator
  • Batteries are highly flammable
  • Height limit is 400 feet above ground level
  • Maximum range is 500 meters
  • Drones should always fly under visual control of the operator
  • Drones have limitations to fly at high altitude due to air pressure
  • They cannot fly at night

Weather conditions

  • Wind: maximum 20 mph
  • Extreme temperatures:  minimum -10 ºC and maximum 40 ºC
  • No operation in case of heavy rain

3. The best stories to use a drone

Drones can produce amazing images and give video a different point of view.

BBC Drone operator Neil Paton has analysed what kind of stories use drone images and when.

News reports tend to use them at the beginning, in the middle and at the end, while use in online pieces is more widespread.

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Based on his experience, Neil Paton recommends the following stories as the best to use a drone:

    • Stories that involve big subjects

  • Industrial and transport-related pieces
  • Housing stories
  • Agricultural, environmental and rural affairs

 

4. Types of cameras

Drones have a wide range of prices: from £1,500 to £30,000. Apart from the size, one of the main differences is the type of camera they have.

Smaller and lighter drones have GoPro cameras (Hero 3+ or Hero 4) which have the inconvenience of fisheye lenses that can disrupt stories (see video below).

 

For medium drones and better quality footage, experts recommend the Canon 5D Mark III or the Panasonic GH4, which is cheaper, lighter and offers excellent video quality.

Blackmagic cameras are quite common as well.

More information about camera options for drones here.

5. £5million insurance and two operators

The image shows a runner who was injured by a drone during a race (Photo: BBC website)
The image shows a runner who was injured by a drone during a race (Photo: BBC website)

Even if we follow all the recommendations, accidents may occur and insurance is indispensable to avoid any risk.

The minimum value to insure against when flying a drone is £5million, although the BBC uses insurance valued at £20million. This is suitable in the UK but also overseas.

According to BBC regulations, “the operator’s public liability insurance must specifically cover the flying of UAS for the purpose of aerial filming”.

As a general rule, two operators should control the drone. One should direct the flight while the other one should control the camera and the images taken.

Do you have any experience using a drone or any related tips ? Please leave a comment here or email me at @carlapedret.