Travelling with a drone

Travelling with a drone
Let’s be honest, drones are an exciting piece of technology and if you don’t already own one, chances are you want one. They come in all shapes and sizes from toy grade drones to some serious flying camera drones used by amateur and professional photographers and videographers everywhere. YouTube is increasingly flooded with drone videos from virtually anywhere in the world.

If you are a travel enthusiast, then without any doubt drone footage would be a great addition to your everyday standard photos and videos taken on one of your exciting journeys.
So if you already own a drone or planning to get one in the near future, you are probably wondering what it’s like to take your bird with you overseas. Are there any drone restrictions or regulations in the countries you will be travelling to? Will you have any problems with the airport security? Can you take your drone with you on a plane or should you be checking it in?
What about the batteries? These are all the questions I was certainly asking myself before taking my drone overseas. Before I get into my experience in taking the drone through several European and Asian countries, let us get several preparation steps out of the way.
 

Packing

First and foremost, drone is a valuable and fragile item and therefore you should really invest in a nice drone case or a backpack specifically designed for transporting drones or alternatively a backpack designed to carry camera equipment. There are many choices available on the market suited all budgets. As a rule of thumb, backpacks branded by drone manufacturers tend to be more expensive but not necessarily better than other available alternatives. To get an idea as to what other drone enthusiasts get, check out this forum: http://www.phantompilots.com. Just remember that the drone will be with you on the plane in an overhead luggage compartment along with other passengers’ items, so you should have enough padding in your bag to prevent damage to your drone. If you decide to check in your drone (I would advise against it) then the risk of damage to your drone increases and you should invest in a hard-shell backpack or case. It is also worth mentioning that chances are that you will be carrying your drone around until you find the suitable location to fly it, so needless to say your backpack needs to also be comfortable to carry.

Bear in mind that drone batteries must be carried on as a cabin luggage. Checking in drone batteries are both against the airlines’ regulations and dangerous. LiPo batteries (the ones drone uses) can burst into flames if they are overcharged or subjectable to changes in air pressure, which can happen in a belly of the airplane! So if you do decide to check in your batteries, not only you are risking to have them removed by the customs, you are also endangering your life and the lives of other passengers on board. So pack the batteries in the same backpack as your drone and take them with you as a hand luggage.

It is also important to discharge your batteries to approximately 40-60% (roughly) to decrease the risk of having overcharged LiPo batteries burst into flames on board the plane. I also recommend getting LiPo guard bags and place your batteries in it for extra protection. They are inexpensive and you are more likely to get a nod of approval by border security as you have taken extra care to protect yourself and others on the plane. As scary as this sounds, the risk is of something happening with your batteries is very small but it is always better to be safe than sorry.


Drone laws in different countries

Now that we have taken the packing out of the way, it is time to do some homework for drone regulations in countries you are planning to take your drone to. Most countries have common sense laws in place, such as setting a max altitude below 120 meters (400 feet AGL), flying at least 30 meters away from people not involved in drone operation, and not flying over populous areas. Some countries also don’t allow operating drones in National Parks. You should also generally obtain a consent from owners if you intend to fly over private properties such as wineries.

Common sense goes a long way and if you are unsure about regulations you can always ask. When in Venice, Italy I knew that drones were not allowed in the main tourist attractions such as Piazza San Marco, however I was keen to film in Venice and thought it would be OK to fly away from main touristic areas, further in land. I decided to ask a local policeman who in turn responded with a definite “no” since all areas of Venice are in fact a no fly zone. I didn’t end up filming in Venice but I potentially avoided getting a hefty fine, my drone confiscated or worse an accident. Same applies to other tourist hot spots such as Coliseum in Rome or Eiffel Tower in Paris. After all, if you abide by local rules and regulations you are respecting the local country’s law of which you are a guest and also doing yourself and the drone community a favour.


Customs/airport security attitudes

I took my drone all the way from Australia to Vietnam, then to Russia, Italy, France, Iceland and Czech Republic. Drones becoming more common and airport security personnel are aware of its distinctive shape passing through the airport’s X-Ray systems. Still, some may ask you questions and/or request to open your backpack, while others won’t even blink an eye.

In Vietnam I was asked to open the bag and the security person asked me about the batteries. You should be aware that most airlines will allow batteries up to 100 Wh, while others up to 160Wh. There could also be a limit of how many batteries you can carry. Best to check with your airline before you travel just to be on a safe side. In Moscow, I was also asked to reveal the backpack contents but they gave me a nod of approval when I said it was a drone after opening the backpack. In Iceland, I took the initiative and told security people that I have a drone in my backpack and if I should remove it. I simply got “Nah, it’s all good” as an answer. Nowhere else in the above mentioned countries I travelled to paid any unwanted interest in my drone.

You should not have issues passing your drone through airport security if you packed you drone correctly and taken some steps to secure your batteries as described earlier in this article. After all, drones are camera equipment (albeit the one that can actually fly) and unless the drones are absolutely forbidden in the country of your interest, you should be OK.

Now, time to go places and enjoy your newly found hobby!

In the meantime check out some of our travel videos with a drone!
 
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