Where you can and can't fly drones

Thousands will receive drones as Christmas presents this year but, as a recent near-miss with an airliner shows, the authorities face a battle to stop them being used irresponsibly.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones have long crossed over from just being used in the military and specialist commercial sphere. They can now be seen in homes.

Remote controlled aircraft used to be a niche hobby. It took time to build them and skill to operate them. Today drones are cheap, quick to get in the air and you can operate them on a smartphone or tablet. Today the thrill is not so much operating a model aircraft as having a flying camera.

Across the world, rules are being drawn up or refined to deal with the potential dangers. But they are already being flouted.

An unidentified drone came close to hitting an Airbus A320 as it landed at London’s Heathrow during the summer.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sets the rules on drones in the UK under what is called an air navigation order.

  • An unmanned aircraft must never be flown beyond the normal unaided “line of sight” of the person operating it – this is generally measured as 500m (1,640ft)horizontally or 400ft (122m) vertically
  • An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must always be flown at least 50m (164ft) distance away from a person, vehicle, building or structure
  • An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must not be flown within 150m (492ft) of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert
  • For commercial purposes, operators must have permission to fly a drone from the CAA

In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority bans the flying of unmanned aircraft, including hobby drones, above 400ft.

The FAA also states that, if they are to be used within five miles of an airport, its air traffic control tower should be notified in advance. They should not weigh more than 55lbs (25kg).

Recent evidence suggests the rules are being flouted in the UK either because people are unaware or are wilfully ignoring them. Videos uploaded to YouTube show them being operated above London, Nottingham, Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium and towns including Margate and Broadstairs in Kent.

Drone hovering at meeting of drone users in the DC area of Washington

The CAA has prosecuted two Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators relating to safety breaches. It has four other investigations pending. The Association of Chief Police Officers was unable to say how many prosecutions the police have made over drones. But there have been arrests, such as that of a man from Nottingham in October for flying a drone over Manchester City’s stadium during their game against Tottenham Hotspur.

Ch Insp Chris Hill, said: “Even small drones can weigh up to seven or eight kilograms and could cause damage or injury if they fall from height. Thankfully, no-one was hurt.”

The CAA’s focus is purely safety. For the criminal use of drones, including harassment, anti-social behaviour or damage to property, it is a police matter. If people have concerns about a drone being flown in public they should call the police, a CAA spokesman says. “Local police can assess the situation in real time and, if there is any evidence of breaching the air navigation order, they will pass on any information on to us.”

During the ongoing House of Lords select committee inquiry on remotely piloted aircraft systems, Chief Inspector Nick Aldworth of the Metropolitan Police said: “We do not have a criminal privacy law in this country, so it is not the concern of the police to try to develop or enforce it.”

But drones could breach other legislation, he added. “The most obvious example to date is the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the specific offence of voyeurism.”

Incidents across the world are growing in frequency and political campaigners are using them to make a statement. In October a Euro 2016 qualifier in Belgrade was stopped after a drone trailing an Albanian flag was flown over the stadium. And in France, nuclear power stations were buzzed by drones in a number of mysterious incidents.

Drone with Albanian flag

In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority places limits on drone activity. In July two men in New York were arrested after allegedly almost flying their drone into a police helicopter.

So what can be done to prevent the growing number of incidents eventually ending in tragedy?

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) is campaigning for drones to be programmed not to enter certain airspace – known as geo-fencing. The Phantom series of drones, sold by manufacturer DJI, already includes geo-fencing. The GPS of the drone is programmed with the co-ordinates of thousands of airports around the world. It cannot enter these areas. If it tries to it will be forced to land. And within a 2km radius of a major airport its height will be capped at just 10m.

Critics, like Dave Phipps of the British Model Flying Association, point out that people can buy a drone online from a manufacturer that doesn’t use geo-fencing technology. “If you’re buying it from the Far East it’s virtually impossible to enforce.” And other people could simply build their own drones. “You could even buy it in component form and assemble it yourself.”

Commercial operators undergo days of training. But hobbyists can take it out of the box and fly it like a toy. People may need more education on what the rules state, Phipps says. Once they are aware, most users will use them in a responsible way. But stronger punishments may be necessary to send a message to “the idiot contingent”, he says.

An iPhone is used to control a Parrot AR.Drone at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

The police in the UK have so far been relatively tolerant. Ch Insp Aldworth told the House of Lords committee that US and Korean tourists had been caught flying drones in parts of London where they shouldn’t have been. “We have decided not to enforce the legislation that exists, even though they were in contravention of it because it did not seem proportionate.”

Phipps says the authorities need to take a tougher line where the rules are broken. “They should carry out a few more high-profile prosecutions.” And beef up the penalties, he adds. “The fines have been fairly insignificant. Internet posters have said it’s almost worth the risk because you’ll just get an £800 or £900 fine.”

Another new step that Balpa is calling for is that, just like with a car or television, people purchasing a drone would have to give their personal information to the retailer and that this information should be logged. If a drone is apprehended the owner can then be traced. With illegally flown drones at the moment, even if you can apprehend the drone, it may prove hard to catch the person operating it.

Michael Perry, a spokesman for DJI, says the company is discussing compulsory licensing with regulators. All its products have a serial number that can be traced, he says. But would a Chinese manufacturer like DJI co-operate on such a system with European governments? “We’re an international firm. It does behove us to work together with industry regulators,” he says.

Phipps is sceptical. Even if some firms do play ball there is nothing to stop people going online to order unlicensed drones from abroad, he says.

Stricter height limits built in by manufacturers are another suggestion. Perry says that the Phantom 2 is capped to a height of 122m (400ft) when it’s taken out of the box. Somebody can then tick a box to make it go up to 300m. If you build a drone at home you could in theory set it to reach 2,000m high.

The drone revolution has many potential benefits as well as risks advocates say. Perry points out the good that could come for farmers and search and rescue operations. In the UK, the CAA says it has issued permissions to 350 organisations to fly drones for business purposes, including the BBC.

In December 2013 Amazon announced it was testing unmanned drones, called Octocopters, to deliver goods weighing up to 5lb (2.3kg). But the CAA spokesman says the online retailer’s plan is “flawed”, for the UK at least. Drone operators must have a line of sight to the drone, meaning Amazon would only be able to deliver within a radius of 500m from the warehouse. Without a change in the law it remains just a clever idea.

But the skies are going to get busier. And just as with the first cars on the roads, accidents may be inevitable. And then more rules, driving tests and drone policing may become necessary.

Transport Canada sets the benchmark on UAVs…

Yesterday Transport Canada released definitive guidelines on the use, read the full article here: LINK

Guidance on UAVs from Transport Canada

What is clear is that it allows recreational drone users free to fly “responsibly” and those with small UAVs fairly free to use their UAVs as they wish within the exemption requirements:

UAV Exceptions Courtesy of Transport Canada

It is refreshing to see such clear and clean guidance….surely a benchmark for the rest of the world who have been waiting for someone to be first to release their guidance?

I am sure that over the coming months we will see a lot more of these UAV guidance documents appearing!

Cartography – Make it beautiful and get noticed

It is easy to make a map, you can fire up ArcGIS Online and pretty much print out a half decent map within minutes or you could download the Ordnance Survey free vectormap data & styles then draw it up in QGIS. You get the idea, anyone can do it, but I often wonder SHOULD anyone be able to do it when you see examples like this:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B
Exhibit C

If you are sat there saying to yourself “What is wrong with those?” then I have some news for you……

There is a raft of great free resources out there to help you become a super cartographer! The more esthetique you make your map, the more likely people will not only be able to use it but also WANT to use it.

The British map gurus, Ordnance Survey, have been releasing a series of blogs on cartographic design, aimed at users on all levels. Read it here: Ordnance Survey Cartographic Design Series

Of course some of use like to haev something physical to hold and read through. If so, you could do no better than reading Gretchen Petersons’ Guide to Effective Cartography

Maybe you just want to have a little look at what Gretchen does, well she also has a website where she discusses cartographic issues and the evils of halos (and sometimes cats, but never cats with halos…well not usually). Gretchen Petersons Blog

If you search, you might even be able to find a few of the cartographic masters on Twitter…..

Anyhow, there is now no excuse to make an eyesore of a map. Keep is simple stupid (KISS) & follow the 10 basic design principles.







After over 3years of beating my head against the wall trying to get this basic WordPress site to do what I want it to, I’ve bit the bullet and moved to my own address. If I wasn’t so cheap, I’d probably set up some DNS to auto mask the address but all my funds are trying to keep my proprietary software in check.

Good news is that I have moved to HTTP://DRAGONS8MYCAT.COM which is slightly more shiny but just as useful. I look forward to seeing you there soon!

Roger Tomlinson


The thing that is damaging the GIS industry the most…..

A while back (names will be changed to protect the not so innocent) I was at a conference and bumped into an **** employee & introduced myself as Dragons8mycat, they responded by saying:

“You’re that guy that hates E**I aren’t you?”

This got my heckles up and is what is fundamentally wrong with the GIS industry at the moment, it’s like a war, you are either in one camp or another and this should NEVER be the case, to get good at something you don’t read just one source, you don’t stick with one TV channel do you?…..

No, to learn and perform the best we can in life, we use MANY different sources. So why am I ridiculed for not liking parts or the services of software? Let’s be hones here, every single GIS on the market has its issues; ArcGIS crashes & is very pricey, QGIS (although 150% better than it was 3yrs ago) has a complicated GUI and lacks some basic features, CADCorp lacks proper 3D, MapInfo has transformation issues…….let’s not get me started on Tatuk.

At the same time there is a lot to love about every single one of those software and to get the job done I would have every single one of them on my machine; ArcGIS can do ANY geoprocess I need to do, QGIS is fast, reliable and integrates well with web development, CADCorp is fast, easy to use & has amazing support, MapInfo….is MapInfo…..but you can see where I am coming from.

Let’s all just love GIS regardless of origin or background

Instead of fighting over which is best, segregating those who dare complain & creating systems with amazing features that turn back time or generate maps by retina recognition, the creators should look at what people are saying and fix what people are complaining about.

Excuse me for saying this but it is an industry in-joke that ArcGIS crashes constantly, since ArcMap 8.x there have been calls for an autosave feature, so why, at the pinnacle of GIS technology is there still online talk of constant crashes?……

Before you ask, I am impartial, I love all the GIS out there at present, each one of them has something great to shout about, if someone asked me what they should have in their office, at present I would be hard pushed to choose one, it would be a business case decision…..

This is me begging those developers and managers of the major GIS companies out there to stop bickering and take a look at yourselves, take the knocks on the chin and listen to what the public are saying (and not the bias devs around you).

I love you guys, all of you, but you’re giving me a headache…if you carry on like this someone is going to build a system that ticks all the boxes and I need you in my life too much to let that happen.


10 Reasons the Earth is Flat

Originally written by

A lot of people thought the age of satellites would put paid to Flat Earth theory – the idea that our planet isn’t a sphere, but instead a sort of pancake thing.

Those people reckoned without the sheer insanity of the World Wide Web.

The original Flat Earth society fizzled out after the Soviets launched Sputnik – a satellite which reappeared at intervals and seemed to prove the Earth was round – but a new, defiant group of Flat Earthers have reappeared on the Flat Earth forums.

…and lo, God created the FLAT earth….

The forums are adamant the Earth is flat – but very emphatic about the fact that it IS NOT carried through space on the back of a giant turtle.

How on Earth is it possible to believe the Earth is flat in 2014? Here are their 10 ‘reasons’ the Earth is flat.

1. It sort of looks flat, doesn’t it?

Honestly, this is one of their reasons

2. It’s cheaper to fake journeys into space than it is to journey into space

And a global conspiracy has been embezzling all that money ever since the 50s

3. Satellite photos are ‘easily faked’

And the global conspiracy has been doing so for five decades.

4. ‘Day’ and ‘night’ are created by the sun orbiting in a circle above, then beneath the North Pole

The sun also moves sideways – hence winter and summer. They think of everything!

5. People who think they’ve flown round the Earth have just travelled in a big circle round the North Pole

The Earth is like a pancake, with the North Pole in the middle, see.

6. It all stays together because there’s a big ice wall round the edge

The oceans don’t spill off because there’s a wall of ice – called Antarctica. The Flat Earth society admit to being ‘curious’ as to what lies beyond this.

7. Gravity doesn’t exist

Instead, the Earth is constantly accelerating upwards, so the force of gravity is like being pushed into your seat in a car, see?

8. Earth is accelerating upwards due to ‘dark energy’

It all tallies with Einstein, the maniacs boast, as Einstein whirrs gently in his grave.

9. Photos from aeroplanes look curved because of the windows

… and satellite shots look rounded at the edge due to the ‘spotlight’ under the sun, which is only a few thousand miles up.

10. An experiment proved that a six-mile stretch of water was flat

Except it didn’t really. It was famously misread by previous Flat Earthers, who weren’t the brightest crayons in the pack.

Can I use that data or map?

Can I use that geospatial data or map?

Originally posted on xyHt.com 13th August 2o14: http://www.xyht.com/spatial-itgis/can-use-geospatial-data-map/

It’s no big secret, anyone can make maps, ESRI even had some children showcasing their abilities at the user conference this year, So why employ a GIS specialist? Well, apart from getting the cartography right, the specialist can advise on the legalities of map & data production.

With data becoming ever more available and online maps being the norm, there is now more copyright infringement than ever before. In some workplaces it is common to see Google Earth imagery & Streetview imagery put into reports as screen grabbed images….you do know that this is a breach of use?

With everything being so accessible nowadays it is easy to see something relevant and screen grab it, then make it available to others, but have you ever stopped to think about whether you can?

It doesn’t seem like a large number but 13% of all Government Google Removal Requests have come from court orders for copyright offences (figures here) & there have been over 27,662,690 URL removal requests to Google due to copyright (figures here). Okay, so a lot of the URL removals are music related, music piracy is a huge problem. But this highlights the breadth and size of the issue at hand and the rate at which companies are being reported and fined.

Law is a complicated beast, so to help simplify things I put together a flowchart to help end users come to the right decision.

©Nicholas Duggan 2014

Although it does not cover the plethora of data or map licence types, this chart provides an easy reference as to whether you may or may not use the material you intend to use. Of course this may vary from country to country and on a case by case basis, also this does not serve as a legal document, legal advice should be obtained in case of dispute.