The United Kingdom has a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for drone flying, designed to ensure safety and privacy. These rules are based on the risk associated with the flight, which includes factors such as where you fly, how close you are to other people, and the size and weight of your drone.
Key rules include never flying more than 120m (400ft) above the surface, always keeping your drone or model aircraft within visual line of sight (VLOS), and never flying in an airport’s flight restriction zone unless you have permission. If your drone has a camera (unless it's a toy) or weighs 250g or more, you need to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Furthermore, anyone flying a drone weighing 250g or more must pass the CAA’s theory test and obtain a flyer ID. This is free and can be done online. Even if you're not legally required to have a flyer ID, it's strongly recommended that you take the test as it provides valuable information on flying your drone safely.
The drone regulations are divided into two categories based on risk: Open and Specific.
The Open category of drone flying in the UK is designed for low-risk operations. This category does not require specific approvals from the CAA, but in most cases, you must register as an operator and get a flyer ID.
Here are the key requirements for flying in the Open category:
- Drone Weight and Camera: If your drone weighs less than 250g, there are some variations to the rules. If your drone has a camera, you must register as an operator, but you do not have to complete the flyer ID test (although it's strongly recommended).
- Proximity to People: If you're flying a drone or model aircraft that's lighter than 250g, you can fly closer to people than 50m and you can fly over them, but you must not fly over crowds. Regardless of the size of your drone, you must never put people in danger.
- Flight Restrictions: All other safety rules, including flight restriction zones around airfields, the need to keep your drone in visual line of sight, and not flying over 400ft / 120m, still apply to drones under 250g.
- Other Restrictions: Drone operators also need to consider any other restrictions and legitimate interests of statutory bodies such as Local Authorities. Many of these bodies have established local byelaws that often restrict the take-off/landing of drones from council land. Such a restriction, on its own, is not an airspace restriction, and therefore is not always reflected in drone specific alerts and advice.
If your drone weighs between 250g and 2kg, you will require A2CofC qualification in order to fly in populated areas. Without an A2CofC, you will need to keep at least 150m away from any built-up areas. If your drone weighs under 250g, you do not require A2CofC, however you must register with the CAA.
Remember, flying in the Open category requires taking reasonable, proportionate, and common-sense steps to manage the risks of your flight.
The Specific category of drone flying in the UK is designed for operations that present a greater risk than the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open category. This could include operations such as flying a heavier drone, operating over an urban area, or conducting a flight that falls outside the parameters of the Open category.
Here are the key elements involved in flying in the Specific category:
- CAA Approved Remote Pilot Assessment Organisations (RAEs): The CAA has approved certain organisations, like COPTRZ, to conduct assessments of remote pilots. COPTRZ can provide training and assessment for drone pilots to ensure that they have necessary skills and knowledge to operate safely in the Specific category.
- GVC Qualification: You will first need to attain your General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC). The GVC will take you through 8 modules, including Air Law, airspace operating principles, airmanship and aviation safety, and more. You will then be tested in a 40-question multiple choice exam, and a practical flight assessment. Upon passing your GVC, you are able to apply for operational authorisation from the CAA.
- Operational Authorisations: Once you have completed your GVC qualification, you will be able to apply for operational authorisation. This usually involves submitting a detailed risk assessment and operational plans. The CAA will then determine if the operator has sufficiently mitigated the risks associated with their planned operations.
- Risk Assessments: Risk assessments are a crucial part of the application for an operational authorisation. The operator needs to identify potential hazards, assess the risks associated with these hazards, and propose mitigation measures to reduce these risks to an acceptable level.
The CAA provides pre-defined risk assessments for certain types of operations. These can be used as a basis for your own risk assessment.
Flying in the Specific category requires a thorough understanding of the risks associated with your planned operations and the measures you can take to mitigate these risks. For more detailed information, you can visit the CAA's website.
It's important to note that these categories are not based on the drone itself, but rather the type of operation and the risk it presents. The same drone could be used in different categories depending on how and where it's being flown. Always ensure you understand the rules of the category you are operating in to maintain safety and legality in your drone operations.
In conclusion, flying a drone in the UK requires a good understanding of the rules and regulations set out by the CAA. By following these rules, you can ensure that you operate your drone safely and responsibly.
For more detailed information, you can visit the CAA's website.