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During my second visit to the UK, I didn’t want to miss a glimpse of the endless fascinating sites, so I carried my drone along. If you’re heading to the UK, you may be wondering if you can bring your drone along.
Yes, you can bring a drone into the UK. You can also freely fly a drone in the UK, provided you adhere to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK government regulations. Most restrictions are based on the drone’s weight and the distance from the structure and people.
Drones above 250 g (0.05 lb) must be registered, and drones may not be flown higher than 122 meters (400 feet) above ground level.
In this article, we will look into the various regulations that you’re required to follow if you’re flying in the UK.
Read through to know what is expected of you to avoid fines and imprisonment.
General rules for operating drones in the UK #
- Commercial drone operations in the United Kingdom are subject to CAA approval.
- You must always maintain the drone in your line of sight while operating it to ensure it doesn’t cross paths with anything, particularly other aircraft.
- You shouldn’t operate a drone within 150 meters (492 feet) around congested gatherings or organized open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people; or within 50 meters (164 feet) of any structure, vessel, property, or vehicle that the person does not man is responsible for the aircraft;
- All drones, irrespective of size, must not fly higher than 122 meters (400 feet) above the ground.
- You should not operate a small unmanned aircraft within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the borderline of a protected aerodrome (referred to as the “runway protection zone”) without first obtaining permission from the operator of the protected aerodrome, air traffic control, or the flight information service unit.
- All commercial drone operations must be insured.
- You are responsible for operating your drone safely.
- You must not put anybody or anything in danger while using your drone.
- If your drone has a camera, there are additional restrictions on where you can fly it and how near you can operate it to other unassociated people or objects. To fly within these locations or closer to the minimum distances specified in the regulations, you must first receive approval from the CAA.
Requirement for foreign drone operators in the UK #
You must adhere to the UK rules for flying a drone or model aircraft if you want to operate your drone in the UK. In most instances, you’ll require a UK flyer and operator ID.
If you are a drone flyer from another country and want to work in the United Kingdom (i.e., do commercial drone work in the United Kingdom), the CAA grants permissions to foreign operators if they can meet the essential safety requirements for U.K.-based operators.
Other countries’ drone approvals and qualifications are not ‘automatically’ accepted as valid. You must have valid UK authorization to fly in the UK if the flight you manage requires one. Each registration is evaluated on its merits, but it considers the specifics of your national approval/qualification.
The scope of flying the drone and when and where it will take place should be provided. The standard CAA authorization is granted in the majority of cases. Any aircraft weighing over 20 kg (44 lbs) must go through a more involved approval process.
Can I use a drone on private property? #
In the UK, you can operate a drone over private property, but there are restrictions on how close you can fly it. You must keep your drone 50 meters distant from any person or private property.
You may be violating data protection laws if you have a camera and are around the recording distance of a neighbor’s garden or house. Otherwise, no laws prohibit you from using the equipment on your own property.
» MORE: Can I Fly a Drone in My Garden (UK)
Drone registration in the UK #
You must register your drone before flying it in the UK if it’s over 250 g (0.05 lb). You’re required to have two IDs:
- An operator ID – if an individual or organization owns a drone, they must have an ID in the UK. You can operate a drone over private property, but there are some restrictions on how close you can fly. You must keep your drone 50 meters distant from any person or private property.
- A flyer ID – an individual who flies a drone must pass a theory test and acquire a flyer ID.
You can have one or both of them simultaneously, depending on whether you own or just rent. The flyer ID verifies that you have passed the basic flying test and can legally and safely fly the drone.
The operator number is your registration number; you must label it on the drone.
It is against the law to operate a drone without the required ID. If you fly without relevant IDs, you may attract a fine or imprisonment for serious cases.
Small drones, toys, and model aircraft #
Small drones, toys, and model aircraft are exempted from registration when they have the following specifications:
- Toys in C0 class or below 250g (0.05 lb)
- All drones with no camera are in C0 class
- All drones with no class mark and those below 250 g, and no camera
To learn more about model aircraft and drone requirements, check the CAA website to see if you need to register.
Do I need to be a licensed drone pilot? #
The current UK law doesn’t require you to have a license, provided the drone weighs less than 20kgs. According to the November 2019 legislation, drones between 250g (0.05 lb) and 20 kg (44 lb) must have a flyer ID and an operator ID.
Here is more about operator ID and flyer ID.
Operator ID #
The operator is legally responsible for ensuring that only the registered flyer operates the drone. You can do the application yourself if you own the drone, are the pilot, and are over 18 years.
If you are a parent/guardian who has bought a drone for a child under 18 years, you must register the drone on their behalf and be responsible for it.
Registration and obtaining a flyer and operator ID costs £10 annually. For drones above 20kgs (44 lb), you’ll need to acquire authorization from the CAA, where your drone will be classified as large unmanned aircraft.
Flyer ID #
A flyer is a person who operates a drone. It may be the owner of another registered drone operator. The requirement for flyer ID is passing the free theory test.
Children under 13 who want to fly a drone must also pass the test. To protect data, they must register with their parents or guardians.
Can I fly my drone in urban areas in the UK? #
You must keep your drone at least 150 meters from people and structures in urban, established areas. You cannot also fly above structures like in non-urban areas.
I also apply the 150 rule when I am in events such as festivals or concerts because of broadcasting rights.
Can I fly a drone over private property? #
You can fly your drone in private areas such as private residences, but under a specific guide on how close you should fly near structures and people.
The drone should be operated 50 meters away from people and buildings. If your drone has a camera or you’re around a recording area, be careful, for you may break the data protection laws.
Generally, there are no specific regulations for flying drones on private property.
What are the requirements for commercial drones in the UK? #
Apart from the general rules for drone operations in the UK, there are specific requirements that you should adhere to, whether you’re a UK resident or a foreigner.
To qualify as a commercial drone operator, you must take a course that verifies whether you can safely operate a drone and adhere to the specified regulations.
If you are wondering how you know you’re operating a commercial drone, CAA states that a commercial drone is used in return for remuneration or other valuables.
» MORE: Can I Fly a Drone over a Motorway? (UK)
Operating a drone under the specific category #
The specific category covers operations that have more risk than the open category.
You are expected to acquire operational authorization to operate a drone under the specific category. To find more detailed requirements under the specific category, check CAP722.
Operational authorization #
Operational authorization is the key aspect of a specific category determined by the CAA evaluation assessment produced by a drone operator. The operational authorization sets the limits and privileges for the UAS operator.
Risk assessment #
The UAS operator should first perform a risk assessment of the suggested operation and present it when applying to acquire operational authorization. If the proposed operation is covered under the pre-defined risk assessment (PDRA), you don’t need to conduct the risk assessment.
The goal of risk assessments which includes the UAS operator’s manual, is to:
- Give an outline of the suggested operation
- Describe the procedure to use in the proposed operation
- Describe the technical elements of the UAS to be operated
- Demonstrate that the operation is safe (present
Pre-defined risk assessment (PDRA) #
A PDRA is a compressed set of restrictive conditions that a UAS operator must meet to conduct a specific type of operation.
In these scenarios, the CAA, rather than each specific operator, undertakes the risk assessment and then publishes a brief set of requirements that cover topics like ops manual content, remote pilot competency, and more.
The General VLOS Certificate (GVC) #
The GVC is a competency certificate for remote pilots that satisfies the requirements needed for VLOS operations around the specific category. The GVC comprises a practical flight test and a theoretical examination performed at an RAE facility.
CAA doesn’t run or govern assessment tests but permits commercial organizations, the recognized assessment entities (RAE). These organizations help in the development of the operations manual and advise on the completion of additional paperwork.
How do I apply for operational authorization? #
To apply for operational authorization, you’ll need to complete an online application form with the required detail and submit it. The form will offer guidance on the process.
The application includes:
- Operational manual
- Details on the competency levels of every operator involved in the suggested operation
- Risk assessment
Do I need insurance to fly my drone in the UK? #
Whether to have insurance or not depends on the use of your drone. For commercial drones, the CAA requires you to have insurance. Every commercial drone operator should ensure that the drone has the required insurance.
If you fly a drone less than 20 kg (44 lb) for recreation, sports, or other reasons besides commercial use, you decide whether to insure it. For drones above 20 kg, you must insure them regardless of their use.
References:Commercial industry | Civil Aviation Authority (link)