Drone Laws in The UK

Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in the United Kingdom (UK)

Civil Aviation Authority of The United Kingdom

Updated December 26, 2021


Drone Laws UK – General rules for flying drones in the UK

The UK agency responsible for drone safety, CAA, has provided a number of internet-accessible details on flying for fun or for work. The highlights are enumerated below. For more details go to the link above.

Are drones allowed in the UK?

According to CAA, drones are allowed in the UK, subject to CAA regulations. Read on for more details.

Drone registration

You must register before flying most drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK.

There are two requirements and you may need to meet both:

  • if you’ll fly, you must pass a theory test to get a flyer ID
  • if you’re responsible for a drone or model aircraft, you must register for an operator ID

You can get both your flyer ID and operator ID at the same time.!WarningIt is against the law to fly a drone or model aircraft without having the required IDs. You can also be fined for breaking the law when flying. In the most serious cases, you could be sent to prison.

Toys and small drones and model aircraft

You do not need to register if you will only fly or use the following types of drone or model aircraft:

  • toys below 250g or in C0 class
  • those in C0 class with no camera, whether they are a toy or not
  • those below 250g with no camera and no class mark, whether they’re a toy or not

Take a look at the registration requirements for drones and model aircraft to find out if you need to register.

Flyer ID

The flyer is the person who flies the drone or model aircraft.

You must pass an online theory test to get a flyer ID. The test is free. You should prepare for the test before you take it.

Children under 13

Children under 13 must also pass the test to get a flyer ID. For data protection reasons, they must register with their parent or guardian.

There’s more information in the children and parent guidance.

Operator ID

The operator is the person responsible for managing a drone or model aircraft. This means they’re responsible for things like maintaining it and making sure that anyone who flies it has a flyer ID.

They’re usually the person or organisation that owns the drone or model aircraft, but not always. For example, if you’re younger than 18 and you own a drone or model aircraft, you must ask your parent or guardian to register for an operator ID. You’ll still be able to fly as long as you have a flyer ID.

The operator must:

  • make sure that only people with a valid flyer ID use their drone or model aircraft
  • label their drones and model aircraft with their operator ID

You must be 18 or over to register for an operator ID. You can use the same operator ID for all your drones and model aircraft.

If you’re responsible for drones or model aircraft, but will not fly them you can register as an operator only.

Prices

RegistrationCostValid for
Operator ID£91 year
Flyer ID£05 years

Insurance requirements

Drones and model aircraft below 20kg

If you fly a drone or model aircraft below 20kg for recreation, sport, or as a hobby, you can choose whether or not to have insurance.

If you fly it for any other reason, you must have third party insurance.

Drones and model aircraft 20kg and above

If your drone or model aircraft is 20kg or more, you must always have third party insurance, no matter what you use it for.

Flying a drone in the Open Category

The flying of any ‘drone’ or model aircraft in the UK is covered by Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations. 

There are a basic set of regulations for flying unmanned aircraft within the UK. Operating within these limits will ensure you remain in the ‘Open Category’, meaning that you don’t need an authorisation from the CAA to fly. If you intend to operate outside any of these limits, you must first obtain an Operational Authorisation. 

See guidance on the Specific Category for more information. 

 The basic requirements for flying in the Open Category are described below:

  • You must pass the online test and hold a Flyer-ID, and must register as a UAS operator, and display your Operator ID on your UAS
  • You are responsible for flying your UAS in a safe manner 
  • You must keep the UAS in your direct sight at all times while it is flying, so that you can ensure that it does not collide with anything, especially other aircraft 
  • You must not endanger anyone, or anything with your UAS
  • You must not fly more than 400ft/120m above the surface  
  • You must not fly within the Flight Restriction Zone of a protected aerodrome, or within any other airspace restriction without permission. More information on airspace restrictions
  • Your UAS must weigh less than 25Kg

We have a series of factsheets to help explain the rules that will apply to your flying:

  • Flying for fun CAP2003
  • Flying as a hobby and at a club CAP2004
  • Using a drone for work CAP2005
  • Flying in the countryside CAP2006
  • Flying in towns and cities CAP2007
  • The difference with the new 2020 regulations CAP2008

The full set of rules that you need to know about are detailed in the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education System (DMARES) web pages. You must pass this test before you can fly your drone outdoors. There are some exceptions to this, which are detailed within the DMARES pages.

The Open category is divided into three ‘subcategories’, in order to specify certain rules for different types of flying. The category you fall into depends on the type of drone you wish to fly, and how you wish to fly it.

  • A1:  Flying ‘over’ people;
  • A2:  Flying ‘close to’ people;
  • A3:  Flying ‘far from’ people;

You must always comply with the rules of whichever subcategory you are flying in. 

Most people, flying a UAS away from people in the open countryside will fall into the basic requirements of the A3 category- these are similar to the old UK rules that were previously in place. A comparison of these rules, and the new rules can be found in our factsheet CAP2008 . The A1 and A2 categories allow flying closer to people, but with more restrictions. 

The full requirements for flying in the Open category are shown in our factsheet CAP2012

First Person View

Unmanned aircraft that are fitted with video cameras often provide an opportunity to downlink ‘live’ video to the remote pilot either via a mobile phone, tablet computer or other screen, or even through video goggles – this capability provides the pilot with a pseudo ‘pilots eye view’ from the UAS itself and is generally given the term ‘First Person view’ (FPV).  

The remote pilot must always keep the UAS within their unaided visual line of sight, but FPV may be used, when a spotter is assisting the remote pilot. 

The law states:

“The remote pilot may be assisted by a UA observer helping them to keep the unmanned aircraft away from other aircraft and obstacles. 

The UA observer must be situated alongside the remote pilot and observers must not use aided vision (e.g. binoculars).

UA observers may also be used when the remote pilot conducts UAS operations in first-person view (FPV), which is a method used to control the UA with the aid of a visual system connected to the camera of the UA. In all cases, the remote pilot is still responsible for the safety of the flight.”

UAS Implementing Regulation- UAS.OPEN.060  

Note: Images captured by a camera and displayed on a flat screen afford the pilot little by way of depth perception and no peripheral vision. This can make it difficult for the pilot to accurately judge speed and distance and to maintain sufficient awareness of the area surrounding the aircraft to effectively ‘see and avoid’ obstacles and other aircraft – as a result, the use of FPV equipment is not an acceptable mitigation for Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight unless the relevant operator has received a specific authorisation to do so from the CAA.  

Indoor use

Flights inside buildings do not impact air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air.  As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation.  Persons intending to operate unmanned aircraft indoors should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations. 

UK Drone Laws for Foreign Operators

If you are an unmanned aircraft operator from overseas and want to carry out work in the UK, the CAA will normally be able to grant permissions to foreign operators, on the basis that you are able to satisfy the same basic safety requirements that are required for UK based operators.  

This will depend on the evidence of ‘remote pilot competency’ that the applicant is able to provide and the location(s) where the flying is to take place. Please note that the approvals/qualifications from other nations are not ‘automatically’ accepted as being valid.  In order to fly in the UK, you must be in possession of a valid UK permission if the type of flight that you are conducting requires one.  Each application is considered on its own merits, but we will take the details of your own national approval/qualification into account when determining your application and the conditions that are set within the permission. 

Once you have met the requirements, please follow the guidance on how to apply and submit your application

Information should also be supplied about the scope of the operation and where and when it will take place. In the majority of cases, only the ‘standard’ CAA permission is granted. Any aircraft weighing more than 20kg (44 lbs) is subject to a more involved process and is more difficult to approve.

All applications should be made as far in advance as possible.


Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in the UK

See the general rules listed above. Go to the CAA site specifically addressing recreation drone use. Recreational Unmanned Aircraft in the UK


Notes for operating Commercial Drone Services in the UK

In addition to the general rules listed above, the CAA makes the following definitions regarding commercial drone use in the UK:

If your flight fits within the Open Category, see the Open Category description above.

Flying a drone in the Specific Category

An operational authorisation issued by the CAA is required for any flight within the Specific category.  

The Specific category covers operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open category.

Full details of the requirements related to the Specific category can be found in Annex B of CAP722.     

Operational authorisation

The key element of the Specific category is that the UAS operator is required to hold an operational authorisation, which has been issued by the CAA.

This operational authorisation will be based on the CAA’s evaluation of a safety risk assessment that has been produced by the UAS operator or, in some circumstances, has been ‘pre-defined’ and published by the CAA.  

The operational authorisation document sets out the privileges and limits of the operation.  Given the name of the category, each operational authorisation is specific to the named UAS operator and is dependent on the risk assessment and evidence supplied to the CAA by that operator.

For further details, please refer to CAP 722 section 2.3.  

Risk assessment

In order to obtain an operational authorisation, unless the planned operation can be covered by a Pre-defined Risk Assessment (PDRA), the UAS operator must first conduct a risk assessment of the proposed operation and submit this as part of the application.  Essentially, the aim of the risk assessment, which also includes the UAS operator’s operations manual, is to:

  • outline the proposed operation (‘what’ the operator wants to do);
  • describe the operational process that will be used (‘how’ the operator will do it);
  • describe the technical aspects of the UAS to be used (‘what’ the operator will do it with);
  • and then demonstrate that it can be done safely (provide a risk assessment/safety case).

Further guidance on the preparation and submission of risk assessments is provided in CAP 722A .

Pre-Defined Risk Assessments (PDRA)

A PDRA is a shortened set of prescriptive conditions that must be complied with by a UAS operator in order to conduct a pre-determined type of operation. 

In these cases, the CAA conducts the risk assessment, rather than each individual operator, and then publishes a short series of requirements (covering topics such as remote pilot competency, ops manual contents etc) that the UAS operator must provide to the CAA as part of a ‘shortened’ application for an operational authorisation. 

Individual PDRAs are listed in Annex B of CAP722 at B1.3  

Remote pilot competency requirements

The ‘specific’ category covers a wide range of UAS operations, each with different levels of risk. 

The UAS operator must identify the competency required for the remote pilot and all the personnel involved in duties essential to the UAS operation, within the risk assessment.

The General VLOS Certificate (GVC)

The GVC is a remote pilot competency certificate which has been introduced as a simple, ‘one stop’ qualification that satisfies the remote pilot competency requirements for VLOS operations within the Specific category. 

The GVC satisfies the competency requirements of any published PDRA that involves VLOS flight. 

The GVC is comprised of a theoretical examination and a practical flight test, which are both conducted at an RAE facility.  The ‘basic’ GVC can also be augmented by additional ‘modules’ which address any additional remote pilot competency levels that may be required in order to comply with the requirements of slightly more complex operations, such as those involving ‘airspace observers’. 

Further details of the GVC can be found in CAP 722B. 

The CAA does not organise or run assessment courses but we approve commercial organisations, known as Recognised Assessment Entities (RAEs) to do this assessment on our behalf.  The RAE will generally help you develop an operations manual and will offer advice on completing the additional paperwork.

Details of CAA approved RAEs can be found in the links below.

Filming in towns and cities

Guidance on people ‘under the control of the UA operator or the remote pilot’ 

The remote pilot assessment process

CAA approved remote pilot assessment organisations (RAEs)

How to apply for an operational authorisation

Please complete the online application form and submit the following documents (the application form will lead you through the process):

Applications including the UAS operators risk assessment:

  • Operations manual
  • Risk assessment
  • Details of the competency levels of each remote pilot involved in the operation

Insurance

It is the responsibility of every UAS operator to ensure they have appropriate insurance coverage.  This is a condition of each operational authorisation that is issued by the CAA. 

Non UK operators

If you are an unmanned aircraft operator from overseas and want to carry out work in the UK, then you must register as a UK operator and comply with the same requirements that would apply if you were based in the UK. 

There is some scope for valid national documents relating to operator certification, remote pilot competency or even national operational authorisations to be accepted by the CAA as part of a risk assessment.  This is particularly the case where the regulatory environment in the UAS operator’s parent country is similar to that of the UK (e.g. EU Member States).


Useful published information on flying drones in the UK

Site recommended by CAA: DroneSafe.uk

Here is a useful introduction video provided by CAA about Drone Laws UK…

NOTE: Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS), Small UAS, Remote Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), and drone are interchangeable terms unless specified. Model aircraft, toy aircraft, Remote controlled aircraft, and RC aircraft may be covered by the same regulations unless specified.


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6 thoughts on “Drone Laws in The UK”

  1. Hi, since the new laws came in this year to fall in line with EASA regs the commercial aspect of drone flight is no longer a factor in CAA permissions. There is no distinction between Commercial and Recreational flights, it is now the risk of the flight which is the determining factor.

    Reply
  2. A couple of suggestions for alterations to your section above headed ‘Here are the most important rules to know for flying a drone in the UK?’

    You must not fly within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or vessels UNLESS YOUR DRONE WEIGHS LESS THAN 250g.

    Your drone must not be flown within 150 metres of (remove: ‘a congested area or’) any large group of people such as a concert or sporting event as you may be prosecuted

    If you intend to record in an area where people are, you must inform them before you start, as you will need to respect privacy, or risk being prosecuted (THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE IN A PUBLIC PLACE)

    Reply
    • Ravi, in many cases you may not have to inform the authority before flying. Please read the summary above for the UK which points out when notification is required, or which agencies need to be contacted for further guidance..

      Reply

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