For most people traveling with their drone seems very daunting. This is for good reason. Not all countries allow drones to be used (Austria for example has them banned and therefore they are illegal) while others are a bit of a grey area. But taking your drone with you can make for some pretty spectacular imagery and video. Then there also is the art of actually taking your drone through security/customs, the gate and into the plane. Scary right? Will it even fit in the overhead baggage?
To help you out I’ve decided to write a blogpost about it. Right here in the plane. Yes this article is (mostly) written on Turkish Airlines flight TK1980 from London Heathrow to Istanbul, Turkey.
As somebody that travels a lot for work (in the past 12 months I’ve been to Holland, Spain, Sweden, France, United Kingdom, USA, Brazil, China, New Zealand, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Cambodia, Turkey, Portugal, Russia and South Africa. I told you I travel a lot? ) I have grown comfortable with everything that has to do with flying. Airport security, customs, Immigration, lounges (Thanks BA! :-), very crowded planes, drunk passengers, and just about any other thing. Anyway I digress.
Follow along on my journey where I take my drone overseas to Turkey with me.
Before we actually head to the airport we’ll need to find out if we are actually allowed to bring our drone to the country of destination. Often times this is pretty tricky to find out, especially as drone laws are starting to take of quite regularly. A good way to verify if you are allowed to take a drone into the country is by doing a simple google search for “[country] drone regulations”. For example “Turkey drone regulations”. Often times this will lead you to either the official website with the drone regulations in the specific country or will show one of the many forums with people asking about the regulations and often with answers for local pilots. Another good way is to post the question in one of the many drone groups on Facebook. Links are below the article.
In my case Turkey came up with this thread on Phantompilots.com with a member asking for the regulations. This led me to the regulations PDF Turkey has composed with all rules in regards to drones. The person that made the thread mentioned some of the more important rules, these are;
- Drones 4 kg and under are allowed.
- Speed must be under 50 km/h.
- Fly no higher then 100 meters.
- Recreational and sports flying is allowed.
This was a great step in the right direction, I basically had most of the information I needed straight away but of course wanted to verify it.
I’ve put the turkish document into an online translator and found the same guidelines as the member on the forum was saying. A great way to double check is to call the institution that regulates drone rules in the specific country. I tried calling the Turkish authority but sadly was met with non-english speakers.
Now that I know it’s ok to bring my drone for recreational purposes we’ll need to see what I want to take with me. Lets go over the setup I take abroad with me on a regular basis.
What to bring
Here’s a few necessary parts you do not want to miss on location;
- Your drone obviously.
- Spare props (if your out of props on location your drone will be useless).
- Batteries (these require special attention, more on this later).
- Drone Charger + Travel adaptors.
- Controller (another obvious one).
- Ipad/Android Tablet.
- Your phone as a backup.
- Printout of the local rules & regulations.
- GoPro (in case of 3DR Solo).
- Toolkit (for quick fixes and tightening screws when necessary).
It goes without saying you should have this list with you every time you fly your drone, even in your home town. But it’s good to list them again. Needless to say I have all these in my bag packed up and ready to go.
Talking about bags, we’ll need something to carry it with us. Now this comes down to personal preference. You can do two things with the body of your drone (NOT THE BATTERIES, again more on this later). You can either choose to check it into the cargo hold which will need a hard Peli Case or something similar. For inspire One’s this is the only way to go unfortunately. Or what I like to do, you can take your drone as carry-on luggage. Lets go over both options.
Checking in your drone
Personally I’m not a fan of checking in my DJI Phantom 3 Professional with the risk of it not showing up at my destination. Not necessarily because of price, but more so because I need/want to use it for work and/or my holiday and I don’t want to miss out on incredible drone shots.
Since I’m a frequent flyer I’ve had multiple occasions this year of my (or my colleagues) baggage either turning up late (couple of days) or not showing up at all. Something I don’t want to see happening with my drone. Also the other obvious reason it your baggage gets pushed and thrown around a lot in air travel.
But when do you ever want to check in your drone?
– You are flying an DJI Inspire One (which is to big for carry-on luggage).
– You are bringing more then one drone with you.
– You have 2 bags with camera equipment.
– You feel the risk of your drone not showing up is not big enough to lodge your drone around on your back through the airport.
In that case, by all means, check it in. Your drone will probably get through with out any problems 99% of the time. Don’t forget the extra baggage charge at the airport.
IMPORTANT: DO NEVER EVER PACK YOUR LI-PO DRONE BATTERIES IN CHECK-IN BAGGAGE/LUGGAGE.
Good cases for packing your drone for check-in/cargo hold travel;
– DJI Phantom Hardshell Case.
– DJI Inspire One Suitcase.
– GoProfessional Waterproof case for DJI Inspire.
– GoProfessional Phantom 3 Waterproof case.
– Any other bag that is a hardshell with sufficient padding on the inside.
Bonus tip: get yourself a tracdot GSM tracker and put it in your case with your drone. It will send you email updates or use the app and know exactly where you drone currently is. It used GSM towers to find out where it is. This way you’ll always know if your luggage actually arrived or incidentally stayed at the departure airport or went somewhere else. It’s super useful, I use it on my luggage all the time.
I personally prefer to bring my drone with me as carry-on luggage. This way I know it is safely with me and there is (almost) nothing that can go wrong that is beyond my reach. It’s very easy to take your drone with you as carry-on baggage onto a plane. All you need to do it make sure it goes into a case that fits your airlines carry-on regulations.
In my case now for Turkish airlines the regulations state that a person can take 1 carry-on bag sized (55 x 40 x 23cm) weighing no more then 8kg and one personal item. This can be a laptop, umbrella, handbag, etc. While the weight of your carry-on is hardly checked on reputable non-budget airlines (British Airways, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Qatar, Qantas, Emirates, etc).
It is good to note that when they do ask you to weigh it you take out your laptop and iPad as these count as a personal item. (saving your hopefully an extra Kg). Again, check your airline’s carry-on regulations since this vary’s from airline to airline.
Personally I’m using the Think Tank Helipak backpack which is designed to house your drone and is made for traveling. It has the following dimensions; 52.1 x 35.6 x 22.9cm. As you can tell, this is almost the exact same as the size limit on my flight. In other words, perfectly thought out by Think Tank.
The pack features specially made padding that fits my DJI Phantom 3 Professional perfectly (but will probably not fit the 3DR Solo). Next to that it also has space for all the batteries, Controller, iPad Air 2, filters, spare propellers, tools, my Bose Noise cancelling headphones(Hiiiighly recommend these is you fly often), my Canon 7D Mark II, 18-35mm Zoom lens, Canon 50mm II, my sunnies, charger, my macbook air & hard-drive. In other words, it fits just about everything I need. Is it under 8 Kg’s? Maybe..
This is also the main reason I’ve gone for this backpack and not the DJI Hard-case for example, while very nice and protective, it does not offer any kind of extra’s to bring along. Let alone fit the iPad you need to fly your drone. (wake up DJI).
Other packs you can use;
Now that we know what to pack our drone in, it’s time for the most important part.
IMPORTANT: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES TO SAFELY CARRY YOUR BATTERIES WITH YOU ON AN AIRCRAFT. THIS IS FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY FOR THOSE AROUND YOU.
NEVER EVER CHECK YOUR BATTERIES INTO THE CARGO HOLD. ALWAYS TAKE THEM AS CARRY-ON. WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS THE CREW CAN RESPOND TO A DANGEROUS SITUATION OR FIRE, INSIDE THE CARGO HOLD THEY CAN NOT.
DJI’s batteries and 3DR Solo’s batteries are what we call Li-Po batteries. The technology or rather chemistry inside these batteries allows them to stay light weight and pack a lot of energy. Now we all know what can happen when you pack up a lot of energy inside of something. It tends to go boom. Something you don’t want to happen on a plane.
This does not necessarily mean Li-Po batteries are unsafe to travel with. You just need to use caution. How do we do this?
What you want to do it make sure your batteries are filled up between 30 to 50%. Which is between 3.83 and 3.74 Volt. You might know this is what you put your batteries in for safe longterm storage.
For traveling with your drone on a aircraft you want this to be the same. What this does is it takes the energy out of the battery and makes sure it gives the battery room to breath. Li-Po batteries can expand and retract when there is a change in pressure, temperature or any other anomaly. Having your batteries in ‘storage mode’ will make sure your battery can cope with this expanding and retracting behaviour. Making it safer to transport. Completely safe? No, but it will be as save as it can be.
What happens when you don’t do this? Well, You greatly increase the risk of your battery saying puff (expanding and tearing open) which can lead to a Li-Po fire. Lets just say you doNOT want this to happen in flight.
Next to this is it very good practice to put your batteries in specially made Li-Po fireproof bags. This will reduce the risk of fire even more when on transport.
Perfect now we are all set to go.
Now that you have everything packed up in your back, your batteries in storage mode (around 3.8 Volt) and your tickets at hand it is time to head to the airport. Now the hard part starts… Just kidding, Drones are a surprisingly common sight for security/customs operators. When in the beginning they were often curious and I had to open my bag many many times or they wanted to show their colleagues the drone under the X-Ray. Nowadays drones often go straight through the security check without any issue when you depart from a country. So did mine, I left everything inside my bag except my iPad and laptop and it went through without a hitch.
If your bag gets picked up by security for inspection, don’t panic. Tell security it’s a drone and show him the contents of the bag. It’s more likely that you left your deodorant in the bag.
Now that your past security there are no more hurdles to overcome. Go get yourself a coffee and wait till boarding. Hop onboard and you’ll find that your backpack fits perfectly in the overhead bin’s and enjoy the flight.
I hope this will help you get all the amazing images and video you want on your holiday. Be mindful of the people and nature around you, you are a guest in the country.
Just remember, when you are leaving the country you were visiting make sure your batteries are about 30% to 50% and not full.