Not long ago the words “aerial drone” conjured up visions of espionage and secretive military attacks in war zones. These days, drones have many other more peaceful uses. Shop-bought models have become common and - perhaps more dangerously - are often seen as toys. Toys which, in the wrong hands, can be illegal, dangerous and invasive. A group protesting private drones recently landed one near German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “so she would know how unpleasant it is to be spied upon” by these ubiquitous eyes in the sky.
Recent and mysterious drone activity around French nuclear sites is not the first time irresponsible use of drones has landed amateur operators in trouble. A 22-year-old was arrested and fined for flying a drone near the Eiffel Tower last year (2013), and an Israeli tourist suffered the same fate for flying one near the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in February. In May 2014, a drone crashed and burned onto the beach in Nice. The three people who were using the unauthorised drone for filming were arrested and charged.
Most professional or private drones are a spider-like arrangement with a central core and 4 or more arms holding electric motors, which drive fast spinning propellers. Modern technology such as GPS and gyros help with stability and navigation but in some ways drones are like remote-controlled miniature lawn mowers. In untrained hands they can be just as dangerous. It’s not surprising then, that most countries have legislation outlining what can and can’t be done (see box below).
Drones nevertheless have a growing list of exciting and beneficial uses - video filming, still photography, agriculture, archeology, surveying, thermal imaging, inspection and surveillance. Inevitably the first “drone-porn” video has been released. (If you really can’t resist, Google it). Amazon claims it will soon be testing drones as (an unlikely and potentially dangerous) parcel delivery method. Industrial engineer Alec Momont’s “Ambulance Drone” (http://alecmomont.com) for flying defibrillators quickly to heart attack victims seems far more likely and beneficial.
In order to use a drone professionally in France you must follow a training course, pass a theoretical test or hold at least a private pilot or microlight (ULM) licence, obtain official permission and use only authorised equipment. That’s where MLV Drone comes in.
This Chateauneuf-based company is part of the Techni Drone network which flies professional drones for professional and commercial uses. MLV can fly your mission for you or train you to use a drone professionally. The company CEO, Stéphane Vinuesa, knows that drones are here to stay and offer new career and business opportunities but also that commercial use cannot be left to amateurs.
We asked this amiable IT engineer whether he is, in fact, not training his future competitors. “I suppose I am to some extent, but the market is growing so fast with new professional uses coming along all the time so there’ll always be room for those who qualify.”
MLV can quote for a specific mission by Stéphane and his team but if you want to fly your own drone, their training courses are essential. From start to finish, count about a month before you are qualified to fly commercially.
For those who do not already have a pilot’s licence, the microlight theoretical course takes 8 days and costs €794 (HT). The obligatory practical-use course (DNC - Déclaration de Niveau de Compétence) over 10 days costs €2425 (HT) and there is a €209 fee for sitting the obligatory half-day test. MLV Drone offers additional courses in the techniques of filming or to qualify as an instructor. They can also train you to formulate your obligatory MAP (Manuel d’Activité Particulière) requests to the DGAC (Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile).
What you cannot do without qualifications
French law governs safety and privacy issues affecting the use of that amateur drone you got for Christmas.
You cannot fly your drone in any urban area (including parks)
You cannot fly over a crowd of people or herd of animals at any time
You must remain stationary while the drone is in the air
You cannot fly from a moving vehicle
Your remote control must use only authorised frequencies (2,4 or 5,8 GHz)
You cannot fly above 150 metres
You cannot fly near a sensitive area, airport or air strip. These areas are listed at www.aip-drones.fr
The drone must remain within your line of sight at all times
You cannot overfly private property without permission
You cannot photograph or film anyone without their permission
Even as an amateur, you cannot take aerial photos or video for commercial use or for publicity without formal authorisation
What’s the risk?
Gendarmes can arrest you for illicit use of a drone and they can confiscate the equipment. Filming private property or people without permission is covered by privacy laws, which can mean up to a year in prison and a €45,000 fine. The fine can be as much as €75,000 for overflying sensitive areas such as power plants or military installations. You are financially responsible for any damage you cause, including provoking an accident.
Professional training and qualifications provided by MLV Drone allows you to fly in much wider conditions.