Long distance drone flights “to boost business” in Scotland’s remotest places

New laws  to permit long distance drone flights could benefit business in Highlands and Islands, it is claimed. PIC Chris Davies

New laws to permit long distance drone flights could benefit business in Highlands and Islands, it is claimed. PIC Chris Davies

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New laws which will allow drones to fly longer distances than ever before could boost business in the most remote parts of Scotland, it has been claimed.

Business leaders will gather in Inverness for Drone Week from tomorrow (Monday) to hear how new regulations, currently being devised, will allow Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS) navigation of the unmanned aircraft in the UK for the first time.

Land surveys of remote parts of Scotland to be made easier under new rules governing long distance drone flights. PIC Chris Davies.

Land surveys of remote parts of Scotland to be made easier under new rules governing long distance drone flights. PIC Chris Davies.

With longer drone missions possible under the reforms, drone technology will allow parts of the Highlands and Islands to become more accessible, said Dr Sue Wolfe, business manager for the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (ARPAS).

Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and coastal management are among areas expected to benefit from the new flight rules, currently being devised by the Department of Transport and civil aviation experts, by simplifying and cutting costs of tracking and mapping vast open spaces.

Other opportunities included remote filming for tourism and sporting events, Ms Wolfe addded.

Dr Wolfe, who will be speaking a Drone Week at the #hellodigtal centre in the Highland capital, said: “Currently drones have to fly within the line of site but in the near future they will be able to fly much further than that.

Mapping changes to Scotland's forests could be made easier - and cheaper - by the use of drones, it is claimed. PIC Thomas Haywood.

Mapping changes to Scotland's forests could be made easier - and cheaper - by the use of drones, it is claimed. PIC Thomas Haywood.

“We want to get businesses thinking what they can do with drones that go beyond the here and now. We are really looking at changing the way we do things.

“For large areas of land, such as in the Highlands and Islands, you can really see where it would be more effective to using drone technology rather than deploying a team of people to cover the same area.”

Dr Wolfe drew on work carried out to produce a habitat map for Wales,

She said: “The original maps were undertaken by people walking on foot. That took around 40 years. The next maps were produced mainly using satellite images and they took around four years to complete. Just imagine how quickly the next generation of maps, completed with drone footage, will take.”

Long distance drone flights could help coastal management in Highlands and Islands.  PIC Paul Hary.

Long distance drone flights could help coastal management in Highlands and Islands. PIC Paul Hary.

At present. drones are permitted to fly to a maximum distance of 500 metres from the pilot to a maximum of 400ft (121m)vertically.

A commitment to new regulation to insure safe commercial drone flights of drones was set out in the Queen’s Speech in March.

Ms Wolfe said other “exciting” uses of drones possible under the regulations were the recording of sporting events, such as motor racing. Drones were used to film the Olympics for the first time in Rio this summer, she added.

Elements of drone technology would have to “mature” to allow for longer flight times, which typically last 35 to 40 minutes depending on the battery of electric motor used to propulse the device.

Land surveys and mapping of inaccessible parts of the Highlands and Islands could be improved by the use of long-distance drone missions. PIC Thomas Haywood.

Land surveys and mapping of inaccessible parts of the Highlands and Islands could be improved by the use of long-distance drone missions. PIC Thomas Haywood.

April Conroy, is project manager at #hellodigital in Inverness, Scotland’s first digital demonstration centre that supports enterprises to effectively exploit broadband and technology.

Ms Conroy said there were already a number of companies in Highlands and Island who specialised in remotely operated vehicles on an international basis.

She said they had a “perfect opportunity” to use the Highlands as a test bed for Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS) work given the mix of “weathers and terrains” on offer.

Ms Conroy added: “One of the advantages of using drones is you can get photographs or data from an atrea that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach.

“You are not always able to bring people to a dangerous or inaccessible site.

“It may still be more cost effective to cover a very large expanse of land by helicopter but, over a certain range, you are able to do to do a survey much more quickly by putting up a drone rather than bringing in a helicopter from an airport.”

Ms Conroy said the business community of the Highlands and Islands appeared ready to embrace new drone opportunities with Drone Week proving the most popular event since #hellodigital centre, run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, opened in May.

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