back to article Another UAV licence price hike? Commercial drone fliers rage over consultation

The Civil Aviation Authority is threatening already squeezed British commercial drone operators with another licence fee hike from April, piling another 40 per cent onto their costs. Drone fliers who make money by selling pictures and videos taken with their drones are furious over the CAA's proposal, which came to light in a …

  1. frank ly

    Logic?

    What is the 'logic' behind needing a licence from the CAA in order to take aerial photos and then sell them? Are the CAA afraid that the skies will become full of planes and drones taking pictures for commercial purposes if this licence was not required?

    1. Jon 37

      Re: Logic?

      The concern is that drones may be dangerous - mostly because they risk crashing on people or objects and causing injury or damage, and partly because of the risk of collision with manned aircraft.

      So you can fly as an amateur, with lots of restrictions designed to make things safe, or you can get training and a license and insurance and fly as a professional with less restrictions.

      For example, amateurs can't fly over crowds but some (not all) professionals can, if they have a suitable drone with redundant propellers and have done a risk assessment and have appropriate insurance.

      As another example, amateurs can't fly near airports but professionals working for some airlines are using drones to visually inspect aircraft on the ground at airports - it's apparently quicker than getting a ladder and moving it around the aircraft.

      If you're being paid for your flying, you get classed as a professional and you have to follow the professional rules (training/license/insurance). The thinking behind this rule is that many people who are being paid for flying will be flying more often and in busier places than amateurs do, and also many of them have enough drone-related income to pay for the training/license/insurance. However, enabling YouTube ads is probably not enough to pay the professional training/license/insurance costs, so some people are justifiably unhappy with this rule.

      Of course, this doesn't mean that amateurs actually follow the rules.

      1. Smooth Newt
        Meh

        Re: Logic?

        The concern is that drones may be dangerous - mostly because they risk crashing on people or objects and causing injury or damage, and partly because of the risk of collision with manned aircraft.

        So you can fly as an amateur, with lots of restrictions designed to make things safe, or you can get training and a license and insurance and fly as a professional with less restrictions.

        Motor vehicles can also be dangerous, and so training is mandatory to drive one on the public highway. But I don''t have to pay the DVLA to renew my driving licence every year.

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: Logic?

          But if you're a goods vehicle operator you need an operators licence.

          If driving people around you may need Private Hire or PSV licences.

          You may also need to keep up to date with driving skills, and if over 45 renew driving licence at 5 year intervals, over 65 every year

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Logic?

            "and if over 45 renew driving licence at 5 year intervals, over 65 every year"

            Errr...what? Mine's valid 'till I'm 70 and even then I don't have to take any more tests, just renew it and then every years afterwards. Maybe it's different with those new fangled Photo ID type ones?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Logic?

          "Motor vehicles can also be dangerous, and so training is mandatory to drive one on the public highway. But I don''t have to pay the DVLA to renew my driving licence every year."

          Maybe that's because with cars the government taxes the fuel quite heavily, so they relent on the license fees?

          Naaah...

        3. DaLo

          Re: Logic?

          "But I don't have to pay the DVLA to renew my driving licence every year."

          But you do pay them £0~£2000 to tax your car.

        4. DavCrav Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Logic?

          "But I don''t have to pay the DVLA to renew my driving licence every year."

          No, you pay them to renew it every ten years.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Logic?

            If you use your computer or phone to make money then you have to pay the government a computer licence fee every year don't you ?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              WTF?

              Re: Logic?

              > "If you use your computer or phone to make money then you have to pay the government a computer licence fee every year don't you ?"

              No I don't. There are no such laws in the US, so this is a new concept for me, that a government could forcibly take my money just because I do some paid work on my personal computer.

              This isn't actually happening in Britain, is it?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Logic?

                > "If you use your computer or phone to make money then you have to pay the government a computer licence fee every year don't you ?"

                No I don't. There are no such laws in the US, so this is a new concept for me, that a government could forcibly take my money just because I do some paid work on my personal computer.

                This isn't actually happening in Britain, is it?

                --

                You mean the Software, Hardware, & Information Technology Excise.

                You don't have to pay SHITE in the US?

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Logic?

          Not every year no... but your license does have to be renewed every 10 years... same thing, different time scale.

        6. Mark 65

          Re: Logic?

          Motor vehicles can also be dangerous, and so training is mandatory to drive one on the public highway. But I don''t have to pay the DVLA to renew my driving licence every year.

          Jesus, don't go giving them ideas. You point out missed revenue and they'll start trying to collect it.

    2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: Logic?

      Er...no - they simply think that if someone is making money out of something, they should get a share of it.

      Welcome to the wonderful world of the bureaucratic state, where thinking up new taxes is what gets you promoted...

  2. John Robson Silver badge

    No...

    Car Tax isn't a tax on the roads - nor does it pay for them any more than any other tax.

    There is a reason Churchill abolished road tax...

    "Entertainments may be taxed; public houses may be taxed… and the yield devoted to the general revenue. But motorists are to be privileged for all time to have the tax on motors devoted to roads? This is an outrage upon… common sense."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      Re: No...

      "Car Tax isn't a tax on the roads - nor does it pay for them any more than any other tax"

      Can you legally drive a car on a private road without "Car Tax".

      Yes

      Can you legally drive a car on a public road without one "Car Tax"

      No

      Can you own a car for use off road without declaring you will never use it on a public road.

      No.

      Of course the DVLA never refer to it as car tax...no siree

      https://www.gov.uk/vehicle-tax

      "Tax your vehicle"

      "DVLA vehicle tax service"

      "Check if a vehicle is taxed"

      "Go to a Post Office that deals with vehicle tax."

      "the payment for your vehicle tax"

      "Register that your vehicle is off the road, for example you’re keeping it in a garage. You don’t need to tax your vehicle."

      1. Oliver Humpage

        Re: No...

        It is indeed a tax to drive on roads.

        It isn't a tax to pay for roads, any more than a tax on beer pays for pubs. (Local authorities pay for all local roads anyway, and they never see a penny of it.)

        The total amount raised in vehicle excise duty doesn't even equal the amount spent mopping up the blood after road accidents.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: No...

          "It is indeed a tax to drive on roads."

          So why are so many vehicles charged zero VED?

          Are they not entitled to drive on the roads?

          What about the vehicles that are completely exempt (of which there are a surprising number of classes)?

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            Re: No...

            "So why are so many vehicles charged zero VED?

            Are they not entitled to drive on the roads?

            What about the vehicles that are completely exempt (of which there are a surprising number of classes)?"

            I have to pay to use a car park. Blue badge holders don't. Therefore my payment isn't for the car park after all. Is that your logic?

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: No...

              "I have to pay to use a car park. Blue badge holders don't. Therefore my payment isn't for the car park after all. Is that your logic?"

              No, it's not.

              The payment is not to use the road. It's to use *that vehicle* on public space (roads or otherwise).

              You have a choice of vehicle, a blue badge holder does not have a choice and so in many (not all) car parks they get additional time and/or no fees charged.

              If it was permission to use the road then it would apply to the person, not the vehicle - which is how the blue badge scheme works...

          2. Oliver Humpage

            Re: No...

            The tax is specifically levied on vehicles that are on the road. That much is inarguable.

            The amount you are charged is then set at the amount you pollute, and very low polluters like electric cars (and of course any non-motor traffic such as bicycles) have the tax waived entirely.

            So two different things. What it's for, and how much you pay.

            What it specifically *isn't* is a tax that pays *for* roads. Unfortunately the term "road tax" confuses the issue in people's heads (such as the author of this article).

            1. Fonant

              Re: No...

              Indeed, it's "Car tax" or "Vehicle tax" - the terminology used on Government websites - and hasn't been "Road tax" for decades.

              The tax is on the ownership of the vehicle, not the use of the vehicle. The tax varies by vehicle type (road rollers pay nothing) and does not vary at all by how much the vehicle is driven on public roads.

        2. DavCrav Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: No...

          "The total amount raised in vehicle excise duty doesn't even equal the amount spent mopping up the blood after road accidents."

          VED raises about £6bn/year. There are about 150k road accidents in the UK per year, although almost all of these do not spill blood, but it's about £40k/accident even including so-called fender-benders.

          So you are wrong.

          1. Oliver Humpage

            Re: No...

            A basic accident comes in at £25k, a fatal accident around £2m (and there are several thousand of them per year).

            https://www.statista.com/statistics/322862/average-cost-of-road-accidents-and-casualties-in-great-britain-uk/

            £40k per accident isn't as ludicrous as you think.

  3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged

    Race to the bottom

    Drone operators aren't sentient and cannot feel (financial) pain, say gov.

  4. Kevin Johnston

    Stunning Logic here

    So, you have a law-abiding section of the community that are willing to pay a fee to comply with Air Regulations yet rather than encouraging more people to join that group you decide to dun them with ever increasing fees. Wow

    This comes from the same school of thought as 'All holidays are cancelled until morale improves'.

    1. Nik 2

      Re: Stunning Logic here

      And, just to rub it in, we're spending the extra money checking up on those who are still complying with the regulations...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Stunning Logic here

        "And, just to rub it in, we're spending the extra money checking up on those who are still complying with the regulations..."

        Yes, it would make far more sense if, at least for say the first 5 years, applicants just fill out a fairly basic form, include a copy of their insurance and training certs and licence is rubber stamped. That should really not cost more than 10 or 20 quid each. ie assume by default that people are honest. That way you get pretty much everybody who needs a licence on the books. If it's then found at a later date that some people are applying with false details, then you notch up the rigor of the vetting scheme a bit, which may entail a small increase in the fees. It's not as if the CAA are also the enforcers of the actions of the users out in the field. That's the job of the Police if an offence has been/is being committed.

    2. Smooth Newt
      Meh

      Re: Stunning Logic here

      You might have thought the CAA would be motivated to try to increase the proportion of drone owners who are properly qualified to fly drones. If I was interested in taking it up as a hobby, then I would be inclined to get properly trained and licenced even if I had no interest in flying them commercially, just to improve my own skill, ability and safety. But the CAA seem to be going that extra mile to discourage this sort of behaviour.

  5. Haku
    Unhappy

    Not even allowed to turn on advertising on your YouTube channel without the license.

    If you have a bunch of videos taken from drones (I'm not sure if this applies to videos of drones flying) on YouTube and the videos start getting lots of views to the point where you could make some extra pocket money from turning on ads, without the CAA license you're breaking the law.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not even allowed to turn on advertising on your YouTube channel without the license.

      Nope:

      "While every case should be judged on its own merits, some types of arrangements are not generally considered by the CAA to be Commercial Operations such as:

      Advertising revenue received as a result of persons visiting a website or social media page where video or photographic stills shot from a drone are displayed/posted."

      https://www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-industry/Aircraft/Unmanned-aircraft/Small-drones/Guidance-on-using-small-drones-for-commercial-work/

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Getting a feel for the pricing

    So these commercial drone operators are annoyed because on top of their £2500 drone they need to find another £240 before they can charge people for the pics and videos they produce?

    Quick google search for nearby operators suggest you can get an operator for an hour (so prob about 2 hours of their time including travel) for around £100.

    Now I'm tempted to say pass the cost onto the client -which - assuming average between one and two shoots a day - would work out, and I'm rounding up here, to about £101 for an hour's shoot.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Getting a feel for the pricing

      I'm not sure why you got downvotes. It's the nature of "commercial" that one passes on various fees/taxes etc. to the customer. It's not like you should eat the cost of everything.

      I have a small laser cutting service that I run in spare time. Yes, the cost of materials, electricity, consumables, and some small amount for equipment is passed on leaving me with a bit of profit on the side. If I couldn't make the profit, then "meh", I'm not doing it.

  7. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    I am old enough to remember...

    ..the licence required by the Home Office Radio Regulatory Board to operate a radio controlled model. It was an arbitrary charge - you gained no benefit from having it, and just had to pay for the privilege of having a hobby.

    In the late 1970s/early 1980s CB radios started coming over from the US to the UK. These transmitted on the same band as model radio, and consequently interfered with the controls, causing the model to crash. When asked to do something about this, the Radio Regulatory Board could do nothing, so they just made the band license-free...

    Licenses of this kind are no more than a money-making scam.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: I am old enough to remember...

      As a famous(ish) after dinner speaker once said. Though I've probably mangled it.

      "if you've got a TV you need a licence. It doesn't improve reception but you're supposed to have one. Now there are only two vans with spinning roof racks in the West Midlands....

      Same for airports, you need an operators licence. There's not a lot you can do about it. Try putting billboards around but people are going to notice the odd 747 taking off and going in. "

      And then he goes onto about CAA putting a massive increase in licence in response to losing money. Though he did qualify it by mentioning that British Steel could lose that much in a week.

      Just looked him up. David Gunson is the man. CD available on Amazon etc. Some jokes a bit dated.

      1. TechDrone
        Pint

        Re: I am old enough to remember...

        "What Goes Up Might Come Down". I've not heard that for years.

        Have a beer for the memories...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    CAA

    A film crew recently wanted to shoot some footage of our local lifeboat. They also wanted to get some footage of an exercise with the Coastguard helicopter. These helicopter/lifeboat exercises happen about twice a year if you are lucky. They can be cancelled due to bad weather or if the helicopter is called into service. So a great training occasion for both crews can easily be missed.

    When they discovered that a film crew were involved the CAA determined that it now was classed as an "Air Display", and as such would need much paperwork and weeks of delay. This resulted in the exercise being cancelled. So much for good (free) publicity :(

    Anon. because of stuff.

    1. Jon Smit

      Re: CAA

      Codswallop. This tale stinks of bullshine. All they had to do way cancel the use of a drone. A professional film crew would have been well aware of any additional issues created by their use of a drone.

      1. kiwimuso
        Happy

        Re: CAA

        re Jon Smit

        I think, codswallop yourself. If you cared to peruse his comment reasonably carefully, I doubt you will find any reference to the word "drone".

        I think you are reading more into it than was actually stated. OTH it doesn't mean that a drone was NOT involved. He just doesn't state it.

        Apologies if I am going blind and missed the reference myself.

        Cheers

  9. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Unhappy

    The commercial drone industry....

    1) Has enough money to buy drones, so it must have enough to pay higher fees to the government

    2) Is not established enough to have any key members of Parliament in its pocket

    3) They're a bunch of trouble-making nerds anyway...

    RESULT: Confirmation of the somewhat recent political adage that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.

  10. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    ... 'cos I'm the Tax Man ...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    3500 renewals per year = about 15 renewals per working day (or 0.5 hour per renewal).

    A 40% increase on renewals would be about £50 x 3500 drone operators = a £175,000 increase.

    IDK how long it takes to manually process renewals, or what their employees are paid, but for that money they could develop a website to process the renewal form online (is it fair to assume all drone operators have internet access?). They could then afford to cut the licence fee in future years.

  12. aberglas

    The increase could pay for more enforcement of the fees

    I doubt very much if the government makes much from these fees. By the time you add the cost of developing regulations, collecting fees, inspection and enforcement etc.

    But rules and regulations, processes and procedures are what has made us what we are today.

    I personally am disgusted that people can walk on footpaths without any licensing whatsoever. Thousands of these unlicensed pedestrians get killed every year. Not to mention the billions spent maintaining footpaths throughout the country. Something should be done about it.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The increase could pay for more enforcement of the fees

      "I personally am disgusted that people can walk on footpaths without any licensing whatsoever. Thousands of these unlicensed pedestrians get killed every year. Not to mention the billions spent maintaining footpaths throughout the country. Something should be done about it."

      It's called Council Tax.

  13. Jon Smit

    Public Liability Insurance

    Professional drone operations must also have public liability insurance. If they make a claim and don't have the necessary CAA licence, the insurance company will not pay out. How long will it be before some clown falls into this self inflicted pit?

    Get over it, licences along with insurance are a legitimate expense, which can be offset against tax, along with all the makey uppey costs the self employed use to cut their tax bills.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Public Liability Insurance

      "Professional drone operations must also have public liability insurance. If they make a claim and don't have the necessary CAA licence, the insurance company will not pay out. How long will it be before some clown falls into this self inflicted pit?"

      In terms of the predicted Armageddon based on the last Xmas or two's sales of drones, has there actually been any serious accidents yet? I assume there will have been one or two, but is the risk high enough yet?

  14. Pangasinan Philippines

    How to speed up the application process

    In order to reduce application turnaround times "from currently on average 90 days down to 15 days in respect of standard permissions", adding that "industry is most keen for the CAA to achieve this soonest".

    A 40% hike.

    Result!

  15. Terje

    Making money?

    My guess is that most of the licensed drone operators are not doing this as an actual line of work but as an advanced hobby, and are probably making very little actual cash off of it most probably taking a net loss if including upgrading hardware etc.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Making money?

      "My guess is that most of the licensed drone operators are not doing this as an actual line of work but as an advanced hobby, and are probably making very little actual cash off of it most probably taking a net loss if including upgrading hardware etc."

      Based on the various documentaries on TV over the last year or so, there seems to be a fair number working in the TV industry. Ditto for news teams. Police are using them. National Grid are doing pylon and transmission wire inspections with them. I suspect quite a few industries are using them for hard to reach inspection jobs. All of those, including Police, have to be licences. They probably account for a fair chunk of that 3,500 annual renewals. Probably many of the freelancers are people who have seen an opportunity and are photographers or engineers offering their drone services.

      The ones making all the noise (and quite rightly IMHO) are the ones you describe, advanced hobbyists who might make a little on the side.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a commercial airline pilot, I can confirm that the CAA are indeed the archetypal government agency. Bureaucratic and amazingly inefficient.

    They are a shadow of their former self to be fair, as most of the tasks been handed to that other bastion of efficiency and standards; EASA.

    I wouldn’t recommend anyone to not pay their “licence” fee to operate their drone, but the CAA has created this mess.

    1. john moriarty

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