Flying drones is a growing trend in the UK, however, as the skies become busier with drones, it is vital that individuals and businesses know what the rules and regulations are in the UK with regards to flying a drone. This is so that you fly legally and safely and not put yourself or anyone else in danger. This article will guide you to the basic requirements of flying a drone under current UK drone laws.
Here is our guide to flying a drone in the UK.
What are the UK Drone laws?
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for all drone operating and licensing in the UK. The CAA work with other government departments, including the police, to make sure the rules on flying a drone are enforced in the UK.
Something to keep in mind is that as drones continue to become more technologically advanced and become more widespread, the rules and regulations will be revised to reflect these rapid changes. So, I highly advise you to check out the CAA website just to make sure that everything you read here is correct.
An important change in the law is that there will be no more distinction between flying drones for recreational purposes and flying them for commercial reasons. The CAA hopes that this will make it easier for everyone and not just drone professionals to make money from their drones.
The CAA has introduced a new class system to identify drones so that consumers can easily know which sub-category they are allowed to fly under. Drones that are sold in the UK will need to have a class marking similar to the image below, these markings go from C0-C4 and are based upon certain features the drone comes with.
As this is a relatively new directive, the majority of drone makers have not yet implemented this marking system on their drones.
So, there is a transitional period between now and January 2023 where if the drone does not have a classification marking, it will be the weight of the drone and if it comes with a camera that will determine in which sub-category you will be able to fly.
The CAA Drone Code
The drone code is a set of simple guidelines that provides a framework of what you can and cannot do with a drone.
In most cases, if you follow the guidelines within the drone code, you should be fine and not get into any legal trouble.
Some of the key points from the drone code are the following:
- Make sure to read the user manual and know what your drone is capable of.
- Run a quick maintenance check that the drone is in working condition (this should be in the user manual)
- Always beware of your surroundings.
- Do not fly a drone higher than 120m/400ft.
- Always keep the drones in your visual line of sight
- ·Stay clear of restricted airspace, like airports and aerodromes, violations of these restrictions could lead to a hefty fine and even a jail sentence.
- Download an app like Drone Assist that will alert you of restricted airspace, warn you of any nearby aircraft, if the weather is safe to fly in and allows you to plan your flight safely.
- Keep a minimum distance of 50 meters horizontally between the drone and anyone not involved with your flight.
- If your drone weighs more than 250g, keep at least a 150-meter distance clear of any residential, commercial or recreational area. If it’s lighter than 250g, you can fly in these areas but always keep a safe distance away from people not involved with your flight.
- Do not fly in weather that could have an adverse effect on your flight and put you and the public in danger.
- If you are capturing videos and photos, think about other people’s privacy, it’s best to avoid taking videos and photos of people you do not know. You could also be breaking privacy law and get into legal trouble.
Where Can You Fly A Drone In The UK?
Where you can fly drones in the UK will depend upon the type of drone you have and the risk they pose to the public.
Under new CAA directives, drone flights will fall into three categories that will determine where you can fly.
These categories are:
This is the low-risk category and the one that will cover most amateur drone pilots.
The Open category is subdivided into 3 further categories, the are A1, A2, and A3, each category will determine what kind of drone you can fly, where you can fly and how close to people you will be able to fly.
- The A1 category allows you to fly drones that weigh under 250g over people that are not involved with your operation. However, the drone must be at least 50 meters away from people, it can be flown over them but not if the number of people can be classed as a crowd. For drones between the weight of 250g-900g, something like the Mavic Air or Autel Evo, you cannot fly over people and if it’s a transitional drone (one without a classification marking), you will need an A2 CofC certificate.
- The A2 category allows drone pilots to fly closer to people, if it has a C2 classification, you can get as close as 30 meters, if it is a legacy drone, then the distance is increased to 50 meters. This category will also require you to obtain an A2 CofC certificate.
- The A3 category deals with heavier drones like the Inspire series, Yuneec Typhoon, etc. If you are flying drones in this category, there can no flight around people who are not involved with the operation and the flight must be kept at least 150 meters away from any residential, commercial, or recreational areas.
This is for enterprise professionals and will not affect people looking to fly for recreational purposes. To fly in this category will require you to obtain an Operational Authorisation from the CAA. To get this, individuals or companies must complete a risk assessment of the operation and obtain a GVC certificate from an approved CAA training partner. Obtaining a GVC certificate will showcase your competency in piloting a remote aircraft (like a drone) and consists of a theory test and a practical test.
This is for drone operations that pose similar risks to that of manned aircraft, the rules for this category of drone flight are still being formulated and so any drone flight carried out in this category will be subject to similar rules that regulate manned aviation flights.
So, for most people reading this brief guide to the UK drone laws, only the open category will apply to their situations.
Do You Need A Drone License?
I see this question keeps getting asked and I think many people confuse it with if they need to register a drone. In simple terms, there is no such thing as a UK drone license (as of writing this article), even with all the changes that are ongoing with the UK drone laws, you will not need any kind of license to fly a drone, whether its for recreational or commercial purposes.
Of course, this is subject to change as drone operations become more complex and risky, but currently, there is no such thing as a drone license in the UK.
Do You Need To Register Your Drone In The UK?
Not all drones will require to be registered with the CAA, these include most toy drones that weigh less than 250g and do not have a camera. If they are not classed as toy drones but still weigh less than 250g, it will not need to be registered.
Do Drones Under 250g Need To Be Registered?
If the drone weighs less than 250g but does come with a camera, it will need to be registered. This wasn’t the case before and hence why drones like the DJI Mavic Mini was advertised as such, however, recent changes in the UK drone laws means that you must register any drone that has a camera, even if it weighs less than 250g.
Drone Operator ID
When you register a drone with the CAA, you get something called an Operator ID, this is to be displayed on your drone at all times.
The Operator ID is for people who are responsible for the drone, they will maintain it and make sure only people with a valid flyer ID can fly the drone. An Operator ID can only be given to people over the age of 18. If anyone under this age owns a drone, a parent or guardian must obtain an Operator ID for the drone.
The Operator ID does not give you permission to fly the drone, it only makes you responsible for the drone. Operator ID’s have a fee of £9 and the ID lasts a year after which you will need to renew it.
Drone Flyer ID
You will need a Flyer ID to pilot a drone, a Flyer ID can be obtained from the CAA by completing an online theory test, it consists of 40 questions and you need 75% or better to pass.
Flyer ID’s are not required for drones that weigh less than 250g and have no camera or any drone that has a C0 classification mark. If the drone has a camera or weighs over 250g, anyone wanting to fly will need a Flyer ID.
Flyer ID are free to take and lasts 5 years. If a child under the age of 13 wants to fly, they will require a Flyer ID, they will have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian when they take the test.
Something else to note is that the registration waiver for sub-250g drones is no longer applicable. The CAA decided to end this waiver at end of 2020, in order to fly a sub-250g drone with a camera you will need to follow the same rules as larger drones.
If the above sounds a little confusing, my advice is to just get both the Flyer ID and Operator ID regardless of if you are required to have these ID’s or not. Plus having the Flyer ID will mean you will have a good grasp of the basic requirements of flying a drone safely.
Do You Need Drone Insurance?
In the UK you do not need drone insurance if you are flying for fun and your drone weighs less than 20kg. If t weighs more than 20kg, you will need insurance regardless of whether you are flying for fun or commercial purposes, although flying a drone that heavy will most likely be for commercial reasons.
If you fly for commercial reasons, you will need drone insurance.
One thing to add is that even if you are flying for fun and do not intend to use it to make money, it is best to get your drone insured, just to protect yourself from any damage or injury, the drone may cause.
This is just a brief guide to the drone laws in the UK, as I have stated in the article, the rules, and regulations regarding flying drones are fluid and so its best to check the CAA website regularly just to make sure you are up to date with what is legally required of you to fly a drone.