UK and USA drone laws compared

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 British skies are regulated, and how drone pilots must act.

What are the current UK drone laws?
British airspace is regulated by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). Within the ANO (Air Navigation Order), it covers guidelines on how drones should be used. In line with recent events it has revised these guidelines and released the Drone Code to make them easier to understand.

  • Non-commercial drone pilots do not need 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 licence.
  • Drones must be flown at a maximum height of 400ftm, no more than 500m from you horizontally.
  • Drones must not be flown more than 150m away from congested areas, unless special permission is granted.
  • If these rules are ignored, operators may suffer a penalty.

How does this compare with the USA?
Last year, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) also 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?

How do you think the current UK drone laws compare with those in the US, as well as those that are proposed for the future? Would calls for registration or safety tests affect you personally?