Drone Laws in The UK

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

Civil Aviation Authority of The United Kingdom

UAS Laws – 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

If you are wanting to fly a drone or model aircraft you now have to be registered. This includes the below:

  • Anyone who wishes to fly a drone must pass a theory test to get a flyer ID
  • The person that is responsible for the drone or model aircraft must register to get an operator ID

More details regarding registration can be fount on the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Airfield restrictions

On 13 March 2019, the drone flight restriction zone around airports changed. Find more detailed information regarding airport and airfield restrictions on the Civil Aviation Authority page.

Here are the most important rules to know for flying a drone in the UK?

  • Your drone must weigh under 20kg
  • You can’t fly above 400 feet in altitude or 500 metres from you horizontally
  • Ensure your drone is always in sight
  • Always keep away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields
  • Use your common sense and fly your aircraft safely
  • Any drone weighing more than 250 grams must be registered with the CAA and the drone pilot must complete an online safety test, obtaining a Flyer ID and an Operator ID that should be attached to the Drone.
  • You must not fly within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or vessels
  • Your drone must not be flown within 150 metres of 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

If your drone is fitted with a camera there are additional regulations you must follow.

  • You must not fly within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or vessels
  • Your drone must not be flown within 150 metres of 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.

If you intend to use the drone for commercial purposes you must have permission from the CAA and comply with additional laws governing their use. 

To get guidance on operating permissions for drones see the CAA’s website for the latest information and regulations regarding drone use.

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 Commercial Drone Services operations in the UK

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

small unmanned aircraft is defined as ‘any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight’.

commercial operation is defined as:  
 ‘flight by a small unmanned aircraft except a flight for public transport, or any operation of any other aircraft except an operation for public transport;

  • which is available to the public;                    
  • which, when not made available to the public,   
    in the case of a flight by a small unmanned aircraft, is performed under a contract between the SUA operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the remote pilotorin any other case, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator,

in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.’

The key elements in understanding this term are ‘…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’. 

The term ‘available to the public’ should be interpreted as being a service or commodity that any member of the public can make use of, or actively choose to use, (e.g. because it has been advertised or offered to someone).

Examples showing how commercial operations are defined are available in our guidance for small UAS operators.

An ‘SUA operator’, in relation to a small unmanned aircraft, is the person who has the management of the small unmanned aircraft. 

congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.

These rules have been established to provide a safe environment in which small unmanned aircraft can be flown without coming into conflict with manned aircraft and without risk to other people or properties. 

You must have Permission issued by the CAA before you conduct any commercial operations with your UAS.

Indoor use – The applicability of the regulations regarding flights within buildings has been clarified recently.  Under the CAA Act 1982, the Air Navigation Order is made for the purposes of regulating air navigation.  Flights inside buildings have nothing to do with 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. 

Go to the CAA site specifically addressing commercial drone use. Commercial Unmanned Aircraft in the UK

Useful published information on flying drones in the UK

Site recommended by CAA: DroneSafe.uk

Here is a useful introduction video provided by CAA…

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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The content on this site is collated by volunteers from public general information. This material is not presented as legal advice of any kind, and we cannot guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. Do not substitute the information you find here for legal advice from a licensed attorney who is authorized to practice in the jurisdiction. When in doubt, contact the local aviation authority responsible for drone safety, utilize a licensed drone service operator, and/or consult a qualified attorney.

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