What are the laws in the UK for drone flying? (2024)

What are the laws in the UK for drone flying? (2024)
Andy Hayes

If you've recently acquired a drone or are considering it, understanding UK drone regulations and safety guidelines is crucial. This guide clarifies whether you require drone training and outlines the latest rules implemented since December 31, 2020, along with updates announced by the UK CAA/DfT in November 2022 regarding the Transitional Period extension and the UK's position on EU drone markings.

Before we go into depth, here are some key points about the UK drone laws:

  • Three operational categories: Open (for hobbyists/some commercial users), Specific (mainly for enterprise drone pilots), Certified (for very high-risk operations).
  • Open Category has subcategories: A1 (for flying over people), A2 (for flying close to people), A3 (for flying far from people), with certain drones fitting into specific subcategories.
  • EU class marks on drones won't be recognised in the UK from December 23, 2022.
  • Transitional Period extended to January 1, 2026, allowing current drones without recognised class marks to be flown under relaxed rules.
  • A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC) required for A2 or A1 subcategory with an A1 or A2 Transitional aircraft.
  • Specific Category permits operations not allowed in the Open Category, requiring Operational Authorisation from the CAA.
  • General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC) needed for Operational Authorisation application.
  • Existing PfCOs (as of December 31, 2020) will align with the Operational Authorisation.
  • No distinction between 'leisure' and 'commercial' drone flights.
  • UK drone registration generally required.

Where Can I Fly My Drone?

Drone flights are categorised based on the type of drone and the associated risk level:

  • Open: Low risk to third parties, doesn't require CAA authorisation.
  • Specific: Involves more complex operations beyond the Open Category, necessitating CAA authorisation.
  • Certified: Highly complex operations with risks equivalent to manned aviation. Specific UK regulations for this category are still in development. Until then, principles from manned aviation regulations will guide regulation in this category.

The Open Category

The Open Category primarily includes hobbyist or recreational flyers, along with some commercial pilots, who adhere to its rules.

In the Open Category, pilots must follow certain basic requirements:

  1. Drone's maximum take-off mass must be under 25kg.
  2. Keep the drone within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS).
  3. Do not fly higher than 400 ft (120 metres) from the earth's surface.

If a pilot needs to fly outside these conditions, they must seek permission to fly in the Specific Category.

However, the 400ft rule can be exceeded when flying over obstacles taller than 105m, with conditions including obtaining permission from the obstacle authority and maintaining proximity to the obstacle.

The Open Category is divided into three subcategories:

  1. A1 Subcategory - for drones under 250g flying weight, allowing flights over people but not over crowds.
  2. A2 Subcategory - for drones weighing up to 2kg, allowing flights near to people but with horizontal separation.
  3. A3 Subcategory - for larger drones flying far from people.

There's a Transitional Period for drones without recognised class marks, extended until January 1, 2026. During this period, these drones can be operated under specific provisions.

Training requirements vary for each subcategory:

  • A2 CofC (A2 Certificate of Competency) is needed for A2 subcategory.
  • Online learning and testing are required for A1 and A2 Transitional drones.
  • Children below 14 years old can operate as remote pilots in the Open Category.
  • Flying associations have separate Authorisations for their members, offering more flexible operation requirements.

These rules apply to anyone in the UK, but flying association members have different requirements under their Authorisations.

The Specific Category

In the Specific Category, designed for enterprise drone pilots, the key requirement is holding an Operational Authorisation, replacing the PfCO.

This authorisation outlines privileges and limitations for operations, obtained after a risk assessment submission.

Alternatively, operators can use Pre-defined Risk Assessments (PDRAs) for certain operations.

Some missions may require an Operating Safety Case (OSC), allowing flights outside standard permissions, with various requirements such as flying near people or buildings.

Training for the Specific Category includes obtaining a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC), valid for five years, which satisfies competency requirements for certain operations.

Valid PfCOs will be amended to align with the Operational Authorisation until their expiry date, and renewal will require PfCO to GVC conversion after January 1, 2024.

Children under 14 can operate as remote pilots in the Specific Category.

FPV flying and Follow-me mode are legal within certain criteria.

While there are no specific minimum distances for separation from vehicles, vessels, and structures, regulations focus on ensuring safety and avoiding endangerment to people inside these entities.

UK Drone Registration

To fly most drones outdoors in the UK, registering with the CAA is essential. Two requirements might apply:

  1. Passing the DMARES theory test for a flyer ID if you'll fly.
  2. Registering for an Operator ID and labelling drones with it if you're responsible for them.

Flying without these IDs is against the law. Registration is generally required, except for drones below 250g without a camera or considered toys. However, it's encouraged to obtain a Flyer ID even if not legally required, as it promotes safe flying.

The cost varies: Flyer ID is free for five years, while Operator ID costs £10 annually and is valid for one year.

For registration, children under 13 need a guardian's presence for a Flyer ID test, and one must be over 18 to register for an Operator ID. However, children under 14 can operate drones in both Open and Specific Categories.

Labelling your drone with the Operator ID is crucial. It must be visible, in block capitals taller than 3mm, secure, and placed on the main body of the aircraft.

UK Drone Operators Flying In Europe

As a UK drone operator with an A2 CofC or GVC/Operational Authorisation needing to fly in Europe, here's where you stand:

  1. Registration: You must register with the Member State you intend to fly in.

  2. Open Category Flights:

    • A2 Subcategory: Obtain a new A2 CofC in the EU Member State you plan to fly in. Once acquired, this European version of the A2 CofC will be valid in all other EU Member States and EASA associate Member States.
    • A1 and A3 Subcategories: No additional training is required, similar to the UK regulations. However, if using A1 Transitional aircraft in the A1 subcategory, you'll need an A2 CofC.
  3. Specific Category Operations:

    • If you hold a UK GVC and Operational Authorisation, your next steps depend on the aviation authority of the EU Member State you want to operate in. Some will recognise your UK qualifications, requiring amendments to your Operations Manual. Others may require you to complete a separate GVC and apply for a new Operational Authorisation. It's essential to check with the relevant aviation authority before conducting operations.

For flying in non-EU Member States, UK operators must comply with the regulations set by the respective National Aviation Authority (NAA). Consultation with the relevant NAA's guidance documentation is recommended for clarity on requirements.

Other Things To Keep In Mind

Before flying your drone, there are several crucial factors to consider:

  1. Airports: Avoid flying in flight restriction zones around airports and airfields unless you have permission. These zones are in place to prevent collisions with aircraft.

  2. Restricted airspace: Stay clear of areas around prisons, military bases, royal palaces, and government sites, where flying may be restricted.

  3. Events: Temporary flight bans may be enforced during events like air shows or festivals to ensure safety.

  4. Emergency incidents: Be aware of temporary restrictions due to emergency incidents such as road accidents, fires, or floods.

  5. Byelaws: Check for local byelaws that may restrict drone flights, as they may not be displayed on apps or drone websites.

  6. Structures: Look out for structures like cranes, masts, and wires that could pose safety hazards and avoid flying in their vicinity.

  7. Animals: Avoid flying in areas where your drone could disturb animals.

  8. Incident reporting: Report any dangerous incidents or near misses to the Civil Aviation Authority.

  9. Insurance: While optional for recreational flights, consider insurance to protect against liability for any injury or damage caused. Commercial operations require EC785/2004 compliant insurance.

  10. Fitness to fly: Ensure you are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, tired, or unwell before flying.

  11. Weather: Check the weather forecast and be aware of any changes during your flight to ensure safe flying conditions.

Drones And Privacy

Respecting privacy while flying your drone, especially if it has a camera, is crucial. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  1. Inform others: Let people know before you start recording, especially if you're capturing images or footage of friends or family. Use common sense in situations where notifying everyone may not be feasible.

  2. Understand your camera: Familiarise yourself with your camera's capabilities to minimise the risk of privacy infringement. Consider factors like image quality, zoom power, and the ability to start/stop recording during flight.

  3. Be visible: Make yourself visible while flying so others can easily identify who is operating the drone.

  4. Think before sharing: Before sharing images or videos on social media or websites, consider if the content is sensitive, unfair, or harmful. Exercise discretion in what you share.

  5. Secure your content: Store images and videos safely and delete unnecessary footage to protect privacy and comply with data protection laws.

 

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