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All Drone Laws in the United Kingdom (2023 Updated)

By: Richard J. Gross
Updated On: January 6, 2023

Drone technology is quickly becoming an integral part of everyday life in the United Kingdom. From medical aid delivery to construction surveying, drones offer a unique way of carrying out tasks that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

Drone Laws in the United Kingdom

Recently, the UK has become increasingly open to using drones in industry and society. The UK is currently one of the leading countries in Europe regarding drone regulation and technology investment.

With the rising popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones, a nation has to have adequate laws that govern the usage of this technology.

The United Kingdom is no exception to this rule, and one can argue it’s at the forefront with its clear guidelines regarding UAV/drone usage.

In this blog post, we will take a detailed look at drone laws in the United Kingdom to find out what’s allowed when flying amateur or commercial and recreational drones.

General Drone Rules in the United Kingdom (2023)

Complying with the law is paramount when flying a drone in the United Kingdom, so be sure to adhere to these regulations:

Drone Laws in the United Kingdom
  • The CAA mandates permission for any commercial drone operations in the United Kingdom.
  • All commercial drone operations must be covered by insurance.
  • You must be conscientious and accountable for its operation.
  • To prevent any unfortunate incidents, it is critical to maintaining a direct line of sight to your drone while in flight. This will guarantee that the drone does not interfere with other aircraft or objects nearby.
  • When flying your drone, you must take precautions to ensure the safety of yourself and others. Additionally, any items released from it should be done so with extreme caution.
  • Regardless of their size, all drones must remain below an altitude of 122 meters (400 feet) from the ground.
  • If your drone is built with a camera, there are additional restrictions and limitations regarding where you can fly it and how close it can be to uninvolved people or objects.
  • If you want the privilege of taking off in restricted areas or closer than the minimum distance mandated by law, then apply for approval from the CAA ahead of time.
  • Drone operators must remain vigilant while flying and stay away from congested areas where large crowds of more than 1000 people may be present; additionally, they should not fly within 50m (164ft) of any person, property, or structure that is not under their control. Furthermore, the drone must adhere to a maximum altitude limit of 122 meters (400 feet).
  • You are forbidden from piloting a small unmanned aircraft any nearer than 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the border of an established aerodrome (known as the “runway protection zone”) unless you first receive approval from either air traffic control, the flight information service unit, or the operator of the said protected aerodrome.
  • It is forbidden to release any item or living creature (without a parachute, if attached) from an unmanned aircraft in a manner that could potentially harm people or property.

Read Also: New Drone Laws in Maryland, Penalty, Registration

Registering a Drone in the United Kingdom

If you plan to fly any drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK, it is crucial that you register it first.

To take to the skies, you must pass a theory test and obtain a Flyer ID. Registered registration is necessary to acquire an Operator ID if you're responsible for operating or controlling an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly referred to as a drone. Both requirements are essential if you wish to safely and legally pursue recreational aviation activities.

You legally become a certified drone pilot when you acquire your flyer and operator IDs. However, it is illegal to fly without these essential credentials.

Otherwise, one could be fined or sent to prison for unlawful flight. Therefore, ensure that you have the required IDs before taking off with your aircraft.

Drones in the category of toys and models

If you plan to take off with a small drone or model aircraft of 250g or less without a camera, whether it's classified in C0 class or not, and even if it is used as a toy, there is no need for registration.

Read Also: Updated Drone Laws in North Carolina: Rules, Penalty

Requirements To Fly a Drone in the UK

If you're looking to fly drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK, there are two IDs that you'll need to do so.

  • To prove your basic flying proficiency, you must possess a flyer ID.
  • Your drone or model aircraft must be conspicuously labeled with an Operator ID for identification.

Flyer ID 

To take flight, aspiring pilots must pass an online multiple-choice test containing forty questions about legal and safe flying. Individuals must score 30 or higher on the exam to obtain their Remote Pilot ID, officially recognizing them as licensed pilots from the CAA.

Drone and Model Aircraft codes can be used to prepare for this essential assessment as reference material. Once passed, all flyers will be issued with a Flyer ID indicating they have achieved competency in remote pilot operations.

All ages are welcome to register; however, kids 13 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian for the registration process. Plus, registering is entirely free of cost and remains valid for five consecutive years.

Operator ID 

A flyer ID is distinct from an operator ID, as any individual liable for a drone or model aircraft must register as an operator. You will be granted an operator ID and the accompanying certificate upon registration.

This Operator ID must be affixed to all drones or model aircraft in use for identification purposes. This unique identifier can be applied to multiple items without creating a new one.

To become a certified operator, you must be at least 18 years old, and your license will remain valid for one full year. Renewing the registration fee of £10 annually allows you to maintain this status.

Insurance Policies

Obtaining insurance is optional if you plan to fly a drone or model aircraft for recreation, sport, or as a hobby and the weight is below 20 kg.

However, if your purpose for flying exceeds those categories mentioned above in any way, be it commercial activities or otherwise, then third-party insurance must be obtained.

If your drone or model aircraft exceeds 20kg, third-party insurance is necessary. It does not matter what purpose the craft serves; you are still mandated to hold coverage.

Read Also: Updated Drone Laws in Michigan: Rules and Regulations

Civil Aviation Authority of The United Kingdom

The Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom is a vital institution that plays a large role in managing aviation safety, drones, and drone activities in the region.

From ensuring drones abide by all safety protocols to providing guidance on drone operating to licensing drones, this organization works diligently to promote safe and responsible aviation throughout the United Kingdom. Additionally, they monitor the operation of aircraft flying over different parts of the country.

The Civil Aviation Authority strives to ensure aircraft and drones are operated with excellence, integrity, and fairness while keeping safety at its core.

With years of experience and experienced staff, this efficient authority has earned the trust of drone owners who rely upon their expertise for compliance matters.

Open Category operations

Open category operations are almost risk-free to third parties. All operations follow fundamental and pre-established parameters, requiring no additional authorization. The essential elements for the Open Category are:

  • To fly your UAS in the open category, you must first pass the online test and obtain a Flyer ID. You'll then need to register as an operator with your Operator ID prominently displayed on your drone for identification purposes.
  • The unmanned aircraft cannot surpass a take-off mass (MTOM) of 25kg.
  • The unmanned aircraft must be observed directly with the unaided eye by its operator at all times, otherwise known as the visual line of sight (VLOS).
  • Flying any unmanned aircraft must not exceed a maximum altitude of 120 meters (400 feet).
  • You must obtain authorization before flying within the Flight Restriction Zone of a shielded aerodrome or any other airspace restriction.

If none of these criteria are met, then the operation is classified as a Specific category; otherwise, it will fall under Open.

Read Also: All New Drone Laws in Iowa

Commercial Drone Rules in The UK

The United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority has developed additional commercial drone regulations to supplement the initial guidelines provided. These criteria are as follows:

Drone Laws in the United Kingdom

Specific Category operations

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) demands operational authorization for any flight that falls within the Specific category; this class of operations is more unsafe than those in the Open category and encompasses activities outside its limitations.

Operational authorization

The Specific category necessitates that the UAS operator obtains an operational authorization issued by the CAA. This authorization is based on a safety risk assessment generated either by the UAS operator or, under some conditions, established and published by the CAA.

The operational authorization document sets forth the boundaries and potential of each operation. This official record is tailored to a particular UAS operator, depending on the assessment of risk submitted by them to the CAA.

In other words, every single authorization for an operation corresponds exactly with its designated named user.

Risk assessment

Unless the proposed mission can be approved with a Pre-defined Risk Assessment (PDRA), UAS operators must first assess any potential risks and submit their findings as part of their operational authorization application.

Primarily, the objective of a risk assessment that encompasses a UAS operator’s operations manual is to detail the operational proposal (the 'what'), specify how it will be completed (the 'how'), and explain what type of drone will be used (the 'with').

Ultimately, the affirmation must be provided that this can take place safely by displaying a safety case/risk evaluation.

Pre-Defined Risk Assessments (PDRA)

The CAA, rather than every single operator, performs the risk assessment and publishes a concise collection of mandates (encompassing aspects such as remote pilot proficiency, operations manual contents, etc.) that UAS operators need to present for operational authorization in cases where a PDRA applies.

A PDRA is merely an abridged set of directives that drone users must follow to safely carry out their intended operation.

Remote pilot competency requirements

UAS operations can be divided into several unique categories, each with its own risk level. Thus, the UAS operator must determine the necessary competency for the remote pilot and all personnel involved in activities essential to a successful UAS operation while keeping risks as low as possible within their assessment.

How to apply for an operational authorization

To apply, please fill out the online application form and include these components:

  • The UAS operators' risk assessment
  • Your operations manual
  • A detailed risk assessment that outlines potential threats
  • Information regarding the competency levels of each remote pilot associated with your operation. The easy-to-follow instructions on the application form will guide you through this entire process.

Insurance

As a UAS operator, it's your duty to guarantee that you have suitable insurance coverage. This is an obligatory stipulation in each operational authorization assigned by the CAA.

Read Also: New Drone Laws in Massachusetts

No Drone Zones in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, drones are prohibited from flying in a no-drone zone. This can be due to environmental concerns, airspace regulations, or public nuisance. Drones must not be used in these areas to protect our skies and maintain the safety of all aircraft.

Drone Laws in the United Kingdom

Any drone operating within a no-drone zone can cause significant disruption, so it's important to check for local restrictions before taking your drone out for a flight. Be sure you comply with United Kingdom regulations when you fly your drone, and respect special zones created for public safety.

FAQs

Are drones legal in The UK?

Yes, drones are legal in The UK. However, it is important to adhere to all regulations the Civil Aviation Authority sets when operating a drone.

Do I need operational authorization?

Operational authorization is required for any flight within the Specific category; this operations class is more unsafe than those in the Open category.

How to know about No Drone Zones?

You can find information about these zones on the Civil Aviation Authority website.

Conclusion

Understanding all the requirements and regulations for flying a drone or model aircraft in the United Kingdom is essential.

The Flyer ID and Operator ID are two documents you must obtain to become certified, and it’s mandatory to adhere to all safety protocols, laws, restrictions, and rules set by the Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom.

The UK has some of the most stringent drone laws in the world. It is important to understand and abide by these regulations while operating a drone, no matter its purpose.

Following these regulations will ensure that you fly your drone safely and responsibly. If you have any questions about the rules, feel free to leave them in the comments. We Hope this article was helpful to you.

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Richard J. Gross

Hi, my name is Richard J. Gross and I’m a full-time Airbus pilot and commercial drone business owner. I got into drones in 2015 when I started doing aerial photography for real estate companies. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, but it turns out that police were called on me shortly after I started flying. They didn’t like me flying my drone near people, so they asked me to come train their officers on the rules and regulations for drones. After that, I decided to start my own drone business and teach others about the safe and responsible use of drones.

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