7 things to consider before buying a drone

Also Italians are getting more and more passionate about drones and the temptation to buy one and start flying it is very strong. But before diving into this new world, it is better to know the "rules of the game" to avoid making a mistake model or run into avoidable problems.

The first advice is to start with some model already of good level, but at a price still affordable. Make practice, understand if it is an activity that you like and, in the meantime, put better in focus which will be the path that you want to follow in this sector. It's a hobby that, even with cheap models, can become expensive because, almost immediately, you'll want to equip your drone with additional components, you'll learn to deal with the low battery life, and when you're just starting out, some inconvenience can happen and buying spare parts is something to consider. Here, then, is a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before buying your first drone.

Cheap drones aren't just for beginners

The same rule applies to drones as other items: you get what you pay for. Which translated in this specific context means that the more you spend, the more features the drone will include to make your life easier when you fly it. The DJI Phantom 3 Standard, for example, while it's a great choice price-wise ($500) and a great place to start when venturing into this exciting hobby, doesn't come with sensors - found in the more expensive Advanced and Professional versions - that help you get it circling in a given position either when you're indoors or without the GPS lock. If you're just starting out, GPS is a very important feature and it's worth shelling out a bit more if you're looking for a drone that will provide you with some flight stability outdoors, particularly if your goal is photos and videos. GPS is not an option you find in "toy" drones.

Flight duration is still short

Battery life still remains the weak point of drones. The best drones on the market provide a maximum of 28 minutes of battery life. The average for camera-equipped drones is around 20 minutes, while toy drones have a flight endurance of between 5 and 7 minutes, although some can go as high as 12 minutes. Most of the manufacturers are working to find a viable solution such as, for example, Intelligent Energy that is experimenting with cells that use hydrogen as fuel. It should also be noted that when a manufacturer provides a figure for flight autonomy, it is always a time calculated after tests under "ideal" conditions and in a controlled environment. It is a value that in reality finds its own "time". If you make your drone fly faster, add weight, the wind is unfavorable, you can be sure that the battery will last less than expected, which is already not much.

The price of the drone is just the beginning

Well, you just bought a 1,000 euro drone. Guess what? You're not done shelling out money! You'll quickly get the urge, or the need, to buy a couple of extra batteries, some spare propellers and mounts, and maybe even a super fast charger so you don't have to wait hours to get 'flying' again. It will happen to you, especially in the beginning, that your drone will crash somewhere... and you also have to put in some expenses for the repair. Not surprisingly, the aforementioned DJI, also offers accident insurance when purchasing a new drone. Before buying a drone, also take a look at the prices and availability of spare parts, batteries and various accessories. And be careful if you buy parts from unofficial stores, especially when it comes to batteries and chargers, because they might not be of the same quality as the ones sold by the manufacturer of your model.

Beware of the sensitive issue of 'privacy'

Whether you are flying your drone in the garden or in a public area, if someone sees you they will immediately think that you are spying on them or watching someone else. Even if you are in a field, alone, with no one around, and with your drone 15 meters above your head, it's not out of the question that someone will come up and call you a peeping tom, at best. Get used to it...

Many people think drones are dangerous

It doesn't matter that you're the most skilled and cautious drone pilot in the world, and that it's easier to hurt someone by accidentally hitting them with a soccer ball, people watching won't stop thinking that what you're doing is a threat to people's safety, and especially their own. All in all, how can you blame them? Sharp plastic propellers spinning at high speeds aren't exactly synonymous with "safety." If you then add the potential risk of unexpected maneuvers or system failure, whether the drone is 120 feet up or at human height, people - also thanks to the information they read in the media - will always consider drones something dangerous. In the U.S., just to calm tempers, drone pilots have founded the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). In addition to a host of benefits, those who subscribe receive insurance that includes $2,500 thousand in general coverage for liability events, $25 thousand for accidents requiring medical attention or hospitalization, $10 thousand in maximum accidental death coverage, and $1,000 for theft, fire, and vandalism suffered by members.

Finding places to "fly" can be difficult

In the United States, national parks and no-fly zones are off limits. Each local park, then, has its own rules. So the FAA - Federal Aviation Administration - the agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation in charge of regulating and overseeing every aspect of civil aviation - has made available to drone pilots an application that helps them find an area where they can have fun with their drone without problems. And here in Italy? Bisogna seguire le direttive del Regolamento per i mezzi a pilotaggio remoto stabilite dall’ENAC (Ente nazionale aviazione civile). Regole (e certificazioni) che variano a seconda della tipologia del drone, ma alcune norme devono essere rispettate da tutti:

  • Un drone non può volare a più di 500 metri di distanza dal pilota a una quota massima di 150 metri di altezza
  • Un drone deve rispettare una distanza minima di sicurezza di cinque chilometri dagli aeroporti
  • Un drone non può sorvolare aree affollate tenendo sempre in conto il rispetto della privacy o eventuali regolamenti comunali in vigore

Il resto è lasciato al buon senso dei piloti.

In Italia serve una certificazione per pilotare un drone?

Dipende, come accennato, dalla tipologia di drone. If it is a drone that weighs less than 300 grams, with protected rotating parts and that does not exceed the maximum speed of 60 km/h, neither authorizations nor certifications are needed for the pilot, but it is sufficient to send the necessary documentation to the National Civil Aviation Authority. However, it is necessary to follow the general guidelines dictated by ENAC. (see above). If you are thinking of buying a drone weighing less than 2 kg is sufficient to obtain a "simple" certificate of drone pilot and pass a medical examination at an authorized center. The situation changes radically for the category of drones weighing less than 25 kg and more than 25 kg. In the first case you need a "serious" drone pilot certificate that includes a medical certification issued by an Aeromedical Examiner and a certification of aeronautical skills obtained at an ENAC authorized center that involves passing a theoretical and a practical exam. For drones over 25 kg the controls are much more stringent. It is required a pilot license for drones that involves a third class medical certificate - a long series of views that attest to the psycho-physical fitness of the aspiring pilot - and that allows access to certification exams on aeronautical skills through theoretical and practical exams, always to be passed at ENAC authorized centers.