Ten years ago unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) or drones as they are commonly referred to were barely heard of outside of their use in warfare. Today the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) estimates there will be 2.7m commercial drones in flight over the US by 2020.
In fact use of drones is now becoming routine all round the world in industries like construction, telecoms and agriculture for inspection and monitoring purposes. New uses are being developed all the time and in parts of Africa, UASs are now being trialled by health providers to transport urgently needed medicine or blood products.
But it is the media and entertainment sector which is making the most dramatic use of drones. Studios and production companies are increasingly turning to them for sweeping camera shots at a fraction of the price of renting a helicopter, with the added bonus of far greater manoeuvrability, stability and the ability to get up close to the subject being filmed.
Think of the opening sequence of The Expendables 3, featuring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, a speeding train, gunfire and an approaching helicopter – all captured (relatively) “risk-free” by a UAS.
Whether it is high budget drama or low cost television programming, access to drones is so readily available and affordable that producers are only constrained by regulation and their own imagination. From Game of Thrones to Grand Designs, drones are making aerial footage a common feature on our TV screens. The BBC’s new series, Planet Earth ll, used ultra-high definition ultra-high speed cameras mounted on drones to capture footage of dangerous and elusive animals that would have been impossible to shoot using conventional means, making this the most high-tech series ever run by the Corporation according to BBC TV controller Charlotte Moore.
In the entertainment and event space, aerial coverage of the vast crowds enjoying music festivals such as Glastonbury is becoming routine. Fox Sports, building on its successful experience with the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, this year used UASs to augment coverage of the US Open. Event organisers are also using drones to assist with security and crowd management.
But the increased use of drones has not been entirely without incident. Enrique Iglesias had to have reconstructive hand surgery after he reached out and touched a drone flown too close to him in Tijuana in June last year. There was a close call when a drone fell from the sky during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics narrowly missing the defending World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher. Although such incidents are rare they can be serious, particularly as the pattern of injuries seems to centre on facial or hand wounds as people turn to look or touch.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, regulation is beginning to catch up with drone use. Commercial use of drones weighing more than 20kg needs to be pre-approved by the relevant authority – the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK, the FAA in the US. Whether private or commercial, drones cannot be flown within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the pilot. In addition, aircraft need to be flown “within sight” – so not more than 400 feet up in the air or more than 500 meters horizontally without prior CAA permission.
Although a formal regime has yet to be put in place there is a growing expectation that operators will be trained and that a pilot certification system will be put in place that emphasises risk mitigation strategies and public safety awareness. While safety check lists and reminders to avoid airports, agricultural areas and other settings where they might encounter low-flying aircraft are becoming standard, it is likely that more stringent regulation will be developed.
In August this year the US introduced a requirement for all non-recreational drone operators to obtain a remote pilot certificate – a regime that is likely to influence regulatory approaches in other countries such as the UK. The FAA requires that all operators meet minimum safety requirements. It is recommended that training should cover radio technology, battery technology, flight time calculation, meteorology, security checks for aircraft navigation systems, audible and visible signals, emergency instructions, and air traffic law and clearance issues.
Of course when risk and regulation increases, so does the demand for insurance. ProSight’s film and entertainment team will accept a variety of these risks from music festivals, feature films and television productions where UASs are present. Coverage is provided for physical damage of the UAS plus the camera payload which can reach values up to £100,000. A production package policy will also cover the reshoot costs in the event a drone is damaged or stolen. Liability cover is arguably the most important protection given the injuries that occur.
Drones operated by a third party provide additional risk. A rogue drone being flown over your event or production can cause disruption or damage or result in footage being spoiled.
The UAS industry is still in its infancy and as the use of drones expands, we anticipate that insurance covers will continue to develop. Undoubtedly, more stringent oversight combined with drone advances – such as sense and avoid technology – will increase professionalism and safety. As the technology, regulation and risks develop, we will continue to watch (and work) this space with interest.
Head of Film & Entertainment
ProSight Specialty Managing Agency – Syndicate 1110