Where Can I Fly My Drone: Understanding Drone Laws in 2018

The UK is at the forefront of drone operations as the governing body has taken a positive and practical stance regarding their usage and is keen for the industry to grow. Regulations are not always clear cut but having a good understanding of the basics, and more importantly, the intent of the law will help to apply good judgement and make safe decisions while operating. Here, we look at the key stakeholders in the regulatory environment and then consider how to establish which rules are applicable to your operation.

Why is Air Law Important?

As the drone industry is still very much in its infancy, including the regulations that govern it, knowing and understanding what regulations do exist can help keep the industry safe and fair. Ultimately, air law is essential to promote the highest common standards of civil aviation safety. In doing so this means the public can have the upmost confidence in the aviation industry, of which drones are part of. 

What You Need to Know

So, who makes the rules? Unfortunately, there isn’t a single, straightforward answer to this. Aviation rules and regulations may be recommended by a global aviation body or an individual state could develop its own unique legislation. The best way to think of how aviation law works is to think of it as “trickling down” from a global to a national level. Below is a quick guide to help understand the levels.

In the UK, the authority responsible for civil aviation is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA regulates active professional and private pilots (including RPAS), licensed aircraft engineers, air traffic controllers, aerodromes, maintenance organisations and aircraft registered in the UK.

aviation bodies
Drone Laws in the UK

The Air Navigation Order (ANO) details aviation law within the UK and is presented in Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 393. The ANO lays out the rules and regulations that apply to all non-military aircraft, facilities, organisations, and individuals in the UK.

As an operator of an SUA (Small Unmanned Aircraft) or Drone, you are exempt from most articles of the ANO. Articles 94 and 95 are the most relevant to an SUA operator and also 241, which states a person must not recklessly cause an aircraft to endanger any person or property. For details on Articles 94 and 95, see the text below taken directly from the Air Navigation Order.

Small unmanned aircraft
94.—(1) A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
(3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft—
(a)in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained;
(b)within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained; or
(c)at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.
(5) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of commercial operations except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA. 
Small unmanned surveillance aircraft
95.—(1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.
(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are—
(a)over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
(b)over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
(c)within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft; or
(d)subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.
(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.
(4) Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
(5) In this article, “a small unmanned surveillance aircraft” means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition. 
Endangering safety of any person or property
241.  A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. 

CAP 722
CAP 722 is the ‘go to’ document for drone operators. While ANO contains the raw legislation, you can think of CAP 722 as a guidance document, which also contains additional information to help you conform with the rules laid out within the ANO.

The most important information in CAP 722 for RPAS operators is The Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) from the CAA in order to operate an SUA for commercial gain. Upon successful completion of the Unmanned Aircraft Qualification (UAQ), candidates will be issued with a certificate that allows them to work as an RPAS pilot for a company that holds a PfCO. If they wish to carry out your own commercial work, they must apply for your own PfCO and prepare an operations manual.

uavair flow chart

Insurance & Safety Reporting
The CAA requires evidence of insurance in order to apply for a PfCO. In the UK, commercial drone operators must take out a minimum of public and aviation liability for aircraft operating into, over or within the EU. A few examples of insurance for unmanned operators include Willis, Ravenhall, Coverdrone, and Moonrock.

To contribute to the improvement of flight safety, The Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme (MOR) was introduced. A pilot should report any incident that endangers or that would endanger an aircraft if not corrected. For example, these may include collision, bird strike, aircraft technical problems, and incapacitation of the flight crew. 

An occurrence means any safety-related event which endangers or which, if not corrected or addressed, could endanger an aircraft, its occupants or any other person.

The purpose of occurrence reporting is to improve aviation safety by ensuring that relevant safety information relating to civil aviation is reported, collected, stored, protected, exchanged, disseminated and analysed. It is not to attribute blame or liability.

UK Drone Laws Latest News
The Department for Transport (DfT) recently concluded a consultation on the 'Benefits of drones to the UK economy'. As part of this the government are going to: 
  • introduce a registration scheme and mandatory competency test for users of drones weighing over 250g. 
  • create an authoritative source of UK airspace data to facilitate geofencing and build greater awareness of airspace restrictions for drone pilots. 
  • explore further measures such as increasing penalties, creating new offences and reviewing powers available to law enforcement agencies and to enforce relevant air law. 
Where Can I Fly My Drone in the UK?

To fly recreationally you must stay 150m away from Congested Areas and 50m away from People, Vehicles, Vessels and Structures not under your control. You'll need to keep your drone within line of sight and not more than 500m away from you and no higher than 400ft. For more information follow the CAA Dronecode.

If you want to fly commercially you'll also need a Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO). This generally includes using it during employment or generating revenue via monetised youtube channels. It may also impact the validity of your insurance. 

No-Drone Zones

There are eight Royal parks in London and a number of commons including Wimbledon Common, Putney Common, Clapham Common. You're not allowed to fly any model aircraft or kites at these sites. 

To learn more about UAVAir and our Unmanned Aircraft Qualification why not visit our Drone Licence page or read more about Debunking the Myths About Drones.