Take a walk in the park on Boxing Day this year and there’s a fair chance the sky will be dotted with drones, as the latest must-have gadget comes of age.

Thousands of children - and probably almost as many adults - will unwrap the increasingly affordable flying machines that have taken the model aircraft into the 21st century.

Originally developed for military use and increasingly used by commercial organisations, including aerial photographers, drones have hit the hobbyist mainstream as costs have fallen and app-driven controls have made flying easier than ever.

But a series of incidents have called into question the laws governing the use of the devices (officially called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs) that can fly to the height of an aircraft and take HD quality video footage.

In July a privately operated drone flew within 20 feet of a passenger jet coming into land at Heathrow airport, while in Australia a triathlete claims she was hit by a falling drone, and Albania fans buzzed their Euro 2016 qualifier with a drone carrying a flag emblazoned with the insignia "Great Albania", sparking a brawl.

So, given the potential for accidents and incidents, insurance broker Adrian Flux has warned the hordes of new flyers to check their insurance cover before taking to the skies - and be aware of the law.

Flux general manager Gerry Bucke said that while the law states that drones cannot be flown within 50 metres of a person, a malfunction, poor flight control or a flat battery could still turn your latest gadget into an airborne weapon.

"A lot of people taking their new gadget out for the first time may well not be aware of the laws governing the use of drones, and they may also not have considered the need to check they are covered for liability in the event of something going wrong," he added.

"Some of the bigger drones on the market, which still only sell for a few hundred pounds, can cause serious injury to people and damage to property, leaving the user open to significant claims for damages."

"So we’d urge everyone to check their liability cover under their home insurance policy to ensure they are covered in the event of an incident."

Most home insurance policies exclude liability cover resulting from the use of motorised vehicles and aircraft.

The question is, are drones "aircraft" or are they merely toys or gadgets?

Because the private use of drones is still a new area for insurers, it’s very much open to interpretation and Mr Bucke said the policy wording could lead insurers to take differing views in the event of a claim.

Two insurers contacted by Flux gave two differing interpretations - while one said liability should be covered as long as the drone was not used for business purposes, another said the drone would be classified as an aircraft and therefore excluded from the policy.

"It’s all going to come down to the interpretation of each insurer as to whether the drone is classed as an aircraft or just a fun toy," said Mr Bucke.

"That’s why, if you’re in any doubt, you need to get it in writing from your insurer that you are covered for liability."

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules governing the use of drones in the UK:

  • An unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must never be flown within 50m (164ft) of a person, vehicle, building or structure or within 150m (492ft) of a congested area or large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert.

  • An unmanned aircraft must not be flown beyond the normal unaided line of sight of the operator, typically measured as 500m (1,640ft) horizontally or 122m (400ft) vertically.

  • Commercial operators, including professional photographers, require permission from the CAA to fly a drone.

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Matt Ware
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Maze Media
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