Legal Issues

Having worked through all the logistical and technical issues for an SFAP mission, the photographer also must be cognizant of local rules and regulations for flying and taking aerial photographs. Just as with manned aircraft, the operation of free-flying as well as tethered unmanned aircraft— balloons, blimps, model airplanes, and kites—comes under the legal constraints of aviation laws in most countries. Also, restrictions may exist for taking photographs from the air of certain objects or areas, e.g., public buildings, military grounds, power plants, nature reserves, or private houses. The regulations may be quite specific regarding the type of aircraft, flying height, survey area, and mission purpose, and restrictions may range from none to special requirements of aircraft signaling, insurance obligations, or absolute prohibition. Usually, third-party liability insurance coverage and overflight permission from the site's owner or the local municipal administration are prerequisites for obtaining flying authorizations from the aviation authorities.

Keep in mind, when planning a mission, that investigating and obtaining flying authorizations may take some time, as one authority's permit may depend on those of other agencies. Unfortunately it is not always obvious who is responsible for the permissions. If a civil authority grants the flight permission, it is still possible that involved police or military authority may recognize other problems. Long-term experience has shown that especially with the latter institutions, personal contact and demonstration of the survey devices as well as the presentation of examples of the aerial photographs add to a positive solution. However, it should be considered that aerial photographs are frequently made for espionage purposes, both military and commercial, therefore various officials may be suspicious. This applies especially to free-flying, remotely controlled model aircraft, as opposed to tethered systems; the latter usually remain within a restricted area and may be maneuvered and observed more closely.

All necessary permits and insurance policies should be carried personally into the field and ready to present immediately if required. Nothing is more annoying than having the aircraft positioned directly above the study site in perfect lighting conditions, and then be forced to break off the survey before taking the first photo by the local police or civil guard because the necessary papers with the right seals are lacking.

Considering the differing national regulations and the wealth of individual rules, it is not possible in this book to give an accurate and up-to-date list of legal issues. The reader should refer to the individual country's body of laws. Information about current regulations can be gathered from aeronautical authorities, insurance companies, and model flying associations. Nevertheless, the following sections aim to give an introduction to some of the diverse legal conditions that apply in selected countries. The authors would like to point out explicitly that the following is given for information only and without responsibility for any eventual errors or omissions.

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