Laws on Drones in the UK 2018

Just as the use of drones keeps on increasing, so does the amount of ‘near miss’ events that are reported, or other incidents that are the result of unsafe and unlawful drone piloting techniques. In order to combat this, new proposals have been launched by the government which could change the way that UK skies are regulated, and how drone pilots must act. Our team of consultants have been helping shape, guide and inform drone laws internationally since 2014 and have been actively involved with most working groups along the way. With a background in professional aviation and a love of drones  our team want to see the technology accessed, and exploited, by as many organisations as possible in a safe and responsible manner thereby giving the public confidence that it need not be feared. 

What are the current laws on drones in the UK in 2018?

UK airspace is regulated by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). Within the ANO (Air Navigation Order) it covers guidelines on how drones should be used which can be read in conjunction with document called CAP722. In line with recent events it has revised these guidelines and released the Drone Code to make them easier to understand.

  • Non-commercial (i.e. recreational) drone pilots do not need a permission (like a licence) to fly, as long as the aircraft weighs less than 20kg.
  • If you want to fly a drone for commercial use then you must gain a permission or licence.
  • Drones must not be flown over a maximum height of 400ft, no more than 500m from you horizontally, and must always remain within sight.
  • Drones must be flown 150m away or more from congested areas, unless special permission is granted. Commercial operators, flying drones under 7kg 20kg (updated August 2018), are granted this as part of a PfCO.
  • You must not fly within 1km of an airport boundary.
  • If these rules are ignored operators may suffer a prosecution. The prosecution would fall under the legislation of the Civil Aviation Act and an example can be seen here in the news

Drone Legislation, Regulation and Updates in 2018

The CAA regularly issue updates to the Air Navigation Order & CAP722 via Information Notices. It is the responsibility of the drone pilot (both recreational and commercial) to ensure they are aware of all the latest updates. 

Latest News and Recent Updates on UK Drone Laws

30th July, 2018: It is now illegal to fly above 400ft or within 1km of an airport without permission. 

Air Navigation Order
The Air Navigation Order can be found here

CAP722 can be found here


On 30 May 2018, the United Kingdom Government published an amendment to the UK Air Navigation

Order 2016 (ANO) which contains its changes to the legislation regarding the operation of small
unmanned aircraft. The amendment is published as Statutory Instrument (SI) 2018 No. 623, entitled ‘The
Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018’. This can be found at:
made. Some articles (parts) of the amendment come into force on 30 July 2018, but others take a further
16 months, coming into force on 30 November 2019

Information Notices
Some of the more recent information notices are displayed below and the list can be found here

September 2018 

  • Official Record OR4 Small Unmanned Aircraft with a Mass Greater than 7kg – Operations above 400ft within Controlled Airspace and/or Aerodrome Traffic Zones

Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO)

An example of a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) can be viewed; Click here to see the Consortiq PfCO.

Forthcoming Updates on Drone Legislation and Drone Laws

  • The Drone Bill, due to have its second reading debate on Friday 15th February 2019.
  • November 2019 will see drone registration and mandatory safety training. 

What is the Drone Bill?

The Drone Bill is to regulate the purchase and use of drones weighing 5 kilograms or more; and for connected purposes. The first reading was on 5th September 2017.

DfT Public Consultation on Drones

The Department for Transport (DfT) regularly consult the public to help inform the future legislation. Consortiq's CEO Paul Rigby was part of the DfT Cross Government RPAS Strategy working group in 2015. The findings and recommendations of the public consultation were published in 2017 here 

The most recent consultation on use, restrictions and enforcement is open until September 2018 and can be accessed here.

Consultation proposing policies for drone use and enforcement. The proposed policies include:

  • the minimum age requirement for operators for small unmanned aircraft
  • whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient
  • a proposal to mandate and regulate a Flight Information and Notification System (FINS) or just regulate the FINS
  • the powers required by enforcement bodies in order to properly police drone use and penalise incorrect use, including the possible use of fixed penalty notices
  • counter drone technology system proposals

What is the Drone Code?

When you fly a drone in the UK it is your responsibility to be aware of the rules that are in place to keep everyone safe. Follow these simple steps to make sure you are flying safely and legally.

Download a PDF of the Drone Code here

  • Always keep your drone in sight
  • It’s against the law to fly your drone over 400ft (120m)
  • Every time you fly your drone you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Keep the right distance from people and property. People and properties – 150ft (50m)
    Crowds and built up areas – 500ft (150m) and don’t overfly
  • You are responsible for each flight. Legal responsibility lies with you. Failure to fly responsibly could result in criminal prosecution
  • Stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields
  • It is against the law to fly your drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary.
  • Stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields. It is against the law to fly your drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary.

CAA assistant director of communications Jonathan Nicholson said: “Drones are here to stay, not only as a recreational pastime, but as a vital tool in many industries — from agriculture to blue-light services — so increasing public trust through safe drone flying is crucial.”

“As recreational drone use becomes increasingly widespread across the UK it is heartening to see that awareness of the Dronecode has also continued to rise — a clear sign that most drone users take their responsibility seriously and are a credit to the community,”  he added, referring to the (informal) set of rules developed by the body to promote safe use of consumer drones — ahead of the government legislating.

Do I Need a Drone Licence?

If you are flying for 'valuable consideration' which is generally anything other than for recreation then you will need a drone licence? Read more about getting a Drone Licence here.

What does Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) mean in drone law?

The laws on drones in the UK say that Visual Line of Sight means that the drone pilot is able to maintain direct, unaided (other than corrective lenses) visual contact with the drone which is sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vessels, vehicles and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. Within the UK, VLOS operations are normally accepted out to a maximum distance of 500m horizontally and 400 ft vertically from the drone pilot. Operations at a greater distance from the drone pilot may be permitted if an acceptable safety case is submitted. For example, if the aircraft is large it may be justifiable that its flight path can be monitored visually at a greater distance than 500 m. Conversely, for some small aircraft, operations out to a distance of 500m may mean it is not possible to assure or maintain adequate visual contact.

What does Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) mean in drone law?

Operation of a drone beyond a distance where the drone pilot is able to respond to or avoid other airspace users by visual means is considered to be a BVLOS drone intended for operation beyond visual range of the drone pilot will require an approved method of aerial separation and collision avoidance that ensures compliance with Rule 8 of the Rules of the Air Regulations 2007 (Rules for avoiding aerial collisions), or will be restricted to operations within segregated airspace. In 2018, BVLOS is generally only allowed in very specific circumstances, however, there are many initiatives, working groups and organisations who are trying to develop the systems for routine beyond visual line of sight operations. We have helped a number of organisations develop safe systems and training for BVLOS operations. Read how we helped the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) here

How does this compare with the USA?

In 2016, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) released an update to its current guidelines with the Part 107 rule. It now requires users to take a safety test, similar to the one proposed in the UK. However, rather than potentially restricting the use of drones, it opens up the door for many new users, taking place of the licence rather than being required on top of it.

While the introduction of exam style tests has paved the way for drone based businesses in America, the potential of a similar rule being launched in the UK is being greeted with a cooler response, impacting hobbyist pilots rather than just those who want to fly commercially. However, in a time when optimum safety within the entire industry is needed in order to ensure its future success, could this be the right way to ensure that those flying a drone legally are of a high enough standard to practice safe flight, no matter what their reason for flying is?

Consortiq, the parent company of UAVAir, has offices in Annapolis, Maryland and may be able to assist you with flying drones in the USA. Visit the Consortiq website here. Consortiq were voted #1 for training in the USA by AUVSI in May 2018 and were awarded an AUVSI Xcellence Award.  

Does your organisation need help with Drone Laws in the UK? Get in touch with the team today to see how we can help you.