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Drone laws in the UK – what are the rules?

What you need to know before you engage in any Drone Flying. Here is a link to an Article that makes you aware of your responsibilities when ordering a Drone for Business or Entertainment use, including Weddings.

Drone laws in the UK – what are the rules?

What are the rules for flying drones in the UK?

The rules governing use of drones are still evolving, as the implications of these new use cases become clear. For example, the House of Lords EU Committee called for the compulsory registration of all commercial and civilian drones, amid growing concern over the use of drones by private individuals with little knowledge of aviation rules.

At the moment, there is nothing to stop you going and buying a drone and taking it out flying, as long as the drone weighs less than 20kg and you are not using it for commercial reasons.

However, you must avoid flying it within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the pilot.

"That’s probably going to be fine if you’re flying the drone in your back garden, but if you’re in a park, for example, you need to be very careful about making sure you’re not flying it within 50 metres of other people who are in the park," said Sally Annereau, data protection analyst at law firm Taylor Wessing.

Safety risk posed by drones

Anyone using a drone for commercial use is also required to seek permission from the CAA. To get a licence you will have to show that you are “sufficiently competent”. If your drone weighs over 20kg then it is only legal to use it in certified "danger areas" such as Parc Aberporth aerodrome in West Wales.

While most of the CAA's enforcement efforts are focused on preventing people who are not properly licensed from using drones for commercial purposes, there have been cases where the CAA has stepped in and taken action, even when the person in question has been using the drone purely for domestic purposes.

Is it legal to fly my drone?

Image: PA

By Matt Sparkes

The answer, in short, is 'yes' - with some provisos. The CAA admits that the rules and regulations around drone use are “evolving”, but this is the state of play at the moment: drones are classified as "unmanned aircraft", and the CAA is keen to point out that they are most certainly a type of aircraft and “not toys”.

Even those using a drone weighing less than 20kg for commercial use – receiving payment of any sort – are required to seek permission from the CAA. To get permission you will have to show that you are “sufficiently competent”. This is less clear-cut than manned aircraft, which has a well-established licensing procedure.

If your drone is under 20kg and you're not using it for commercial reasons, then you still have some rules to follow. Anyone filming with a drone for their own purposes must avoid flying it within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the pilot.You will also need to fly the aircraft within sight. This means you can’t go above 400ft in altitude or further than 500 metres horizontally. If you want to exceed that, you’ll again need to seek explicit permission from the CAA.

Should you get drone insurance?

Ms Annereau suggested that there is an argument for drone owners to take out insurance, not only to protect the device from damage, but also to protect themselves in case they cause somebody some injury, their recording infringes on the privacy of an individual, or someone regards their use of that technology as a form of harassment.

"There are a whole host of considerations here. We’ve got the aviation law, we’ve got data protection, we’ve got privacy, we’ve got confidentiality and harassment. It’s the aeronautical equivalent of a minefield," she said.

"The lines are becoming very blurred between when is something purely domestic and when does it stray into the commercial. It won’t always be clear when that’s the case."

Making drone flights traceable

As mentioned, the rules governing use of drones are still evolving. The House of Lords EU Committee suggests that all commercial drone operators should register their drones on an online database or app in the near future, and that in the longer term this should encompass leisure users as well.

"Public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people’s appetite to fly them. It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back," said Committee Chairman Baroness O’Cathain last March.

"That is why a key recommendation is that drone flights must be traceable, effectively through an online database, which the general public could access via an app. We need to use technology creatively, not just to manage the skies, but to help police them as well.”

Ms Annereau added that, as more and more people are given drones as gifts, there are likely to be many more cases of people using them in circumstances that present risks, or rub up against either civil aviation law or data protection, and the laws will be forced to adapt.

Privacy risk posed by drones

She said that another thing to be wary of is using a drone to record images of other people without their consent, as this could be construed as a breach of the Data Protection Act, or of the CCTV code of practice, which was recently extended to include public use of drones where they are collecting information about individuals.

Although the Information Commissioner makes the distinction between ‘hobbyists’ and individuals or organisations who use drones for professional or commercial purposes, the CCTV code of practice states that "it will be good practice for domestic users to be aware of the potential privacy intrusion which the use of UAS can cause to make sure they’re used in a responsible manner".

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