Tips & Insights – Event/Festival Drone Use

One of the growing uses of UAVs/drones is to gather photos and videos of outdoor events and festivals. These platforms provide great ways to capture unique perspectives of large gatherings, with much more dynamic vantage points and reduced costs over full scale aerial services. However there are restrictions and requirements around how, when, and where they can be used safely.


The first key element in utilizing a drone in such a production is the need for the operator to hold a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).  Even if the aerials are being done by the event organizers themselves or done for in kind exchange instead of payment, it is considered commercial use and must meet the associated regulations set in place by Transport Canada. Nonprofit events also fall into this area.  Basically if it’s not a 100% recreational use then an SFOC will be needed.

Also be sure to check that the operator’s SFOC conditions meet your needs.  Not all operators for example can fly at night, or may be restricted to specific altitudes and limited airspace.  Not all SFOCs are the same so you cannot assume every operator is under the same restrictions.

Secondly the operator must have UAV specific liability insurance to operate under the SFOC.  General liability insurance typically does not cover aircraft use so a specific aviation policy is needed.  Make sure the coverage amount also meets your requirements, there is a wide range in coverage from the bare minimum Transport Canada requires of $100,000 up to $10 million or more.  Some properties may have minimum coverage requirements to access their sites.

If the drone provider does not have proper insurance or operates without an SFOC the event organizer may be held accountable for damages in the event an accident happens.

The following provides a list of the more common restrictions for flying near public gatherings, request can be made for variations from these but most often the following are what Transport Canada will require:

  • Must maintain 100′ horizontal distance from people/public not directly part of the event crew/staff.
  • Cannot overfly crowds of people.
  • Must maintain visual line of site between the drone and operator at all times.
  • Where the event is within controlled airspace, or near an airport/helipad, coordination with local air traffic control and facility managers may be required.

For events held on public lands, such as city/provincial/public parks, there may be additional bylaws and requirements that must be addressed as well for the use of drones on these properties. This may require the property owners to be named on the insurance policy as well. Always check with the property owner/manager for clearance and permission.

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It should also be noted that even for indoor public events an SFOC is still required, once it is no longer a closed set/controlled environment then the same restrictions and requirements as outdoor use applies.

The key element when dealing with events with large numbers of public in attendance is safety. Precautions must be taken to ensure the takeoff/landing areas are secure and managed and emergency procedures are in place.

The other larger factor over which no one has control is weather and is a unfortunate reality when dealing with outdoor events and drone operation. Most UAVs are limited to clear weather and within specific wind limits. It should always be taken into consideration that the drone may not be able to always fly, so it should be treated as a secondary element with alternative backups since there rarely is opportunity to reschedule for such live events.

With live event coverage timing is everything, so having a defined schedule of key elements to be covered from the air is critical. You don’t want to miss the key focus of the event by being unprepared to fly. Be sure to review the schedule with your provider and note the key times and items of focus.

The drone also should not be a distraction from the event, it is there to enhance coverage and not become the show itself. Larger systems can be noisy and also distract the attendance. Proper planning for the flight paths, distance, and altitudes can help ensure they minimize this impact.

Unfortunately many unauthorized drones end up at large events, so knowing who is and isn’t approved can help reduce headaches. Make all staff, officials, and law enforcement aware that a drone will be in use.  Performers should be informed as to when and where the aircraft will be flown so they are not distracted and can express any concerns it may have with their performance.  Notifications/signage indicating drones will be in use at the event can also go a a long way to reduce concerns to attendees.  The more informed all involved are the less chance for last minute concern when a drone appears hovering over the event.

With proper planning with a professional, skilled operator drones can offer a great new way to enhance outdoor events.fundy-concert.jpg

Flitelab offers drone based aerial media services and has covered numerous outdoor events such as the Bluenose Marathon, Hockeyday Canada, Serene Ryder Quietest Concert Ever.

Contact us for details on what we can do to make your next event a success and take things to a higher level with unique drone based perspectives.

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