Within the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is in charge of domestic air law and issues airspace legislation under what is called the Air Navigation Order (ANO). The ANO covers all aspects of aviation from commercial airliners to balloons, but most importantly for us it also governs the use of multirotors. Multirotors weighing up to 20kg are classified by the CAA as ‘Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA)’.
As a pilot of a SUA, it is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with the laws and byelaws pertaining to the flying of remote controlled aircraft or multirotors (‘drones’), whether you do so for recreation or for commercial reasons.
The CAA’s specific regulations governing SUA are described in article 166 of the ANO.
To summaries, article 166 of the ANO states:
- The operation of the aircraft must not endanger anyone or anything.
- The 'remote pilot' has the responsibility for satisfying him/herself that the flight can be conducted safely.
- An unmanned aircraft must never be flown beyond the normal unaided ‘line of sight’ of the person operating it - this is generally measured as 500m (1,640ft) horizontally or 400ft (122m) vertically.
- CAA permission is required for all flights that are being conducted for ‘aerial work’ (i.e. where a flight is made for payment or the purpose is in any way commercial).
Small unmanned aircraft that are being used for surveillance purposes (i.e. aerial photography) are subject to tighter restrictions with regard to the minimum distances that you can fly near people or properties. These specific regulations are stated in article 167 of the ANO.
To summaries, article 167 of the ANO states a SUA fitted with a camera must not be flown:
- Over or within 150 metres of any congested area
- Over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons.
- Within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft
- Within 50 metres of any person except during take-off or landing whereby the aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person except for the person in charge of the aircraft.
The full set of regulations pertaining to articles 166 and 167 of the ANO can be found on the CAA's website.
Flight Person View (FPV) Exemptions:
- Flying a SUA from a ‘pilot’s eye’ perspective through the use of an on-board camera known as FPV flying does no fall under article 167 in situations where a camera is used for the sole purpose of controlling the aircraft. However, if the video is captured in some way and used for other purposes, the CAA considers the flight to have been for data acquisition and article 167 does apply.
- There is also an exemption from Article 166(3), which negates the requirement for FPV fliers to maintain direct unaided visual contact with the SUA (impossible if you are flying from a monitor or with goggles), but only if certain conditions are meet, such as having a competent observer. Furthermore, to qualify for the exemption your drone must weigh less than 3.5kg and you can't fly it higher than 1,000 feet from the ground. A full copy of the CAA exemption and conditions can be viewed here: http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/1108.pdf
The regulations may seems a little confusing at first, but in the large part they are just based on common sense. They are designed to make flying safe for everyone i.e. other airspace users, those on the ground, and UAS operators themselves. To that end, we urge all of our customers to adhere to the ANO regulations when flying.
Whilst there is no legal requirement to have third-party liability cover for recreational drone use in the UK, it might save you a very expensive payout if your model was to go out of control and cause damage to somebodies property – or worst still cause injury. Such insurance is included with membership of FPV UK and the British Model Flying Association (BMFA). Membership fees are very reasonable for both organisations, so there’s really no reason not to protect yourself with insurance.
- FPV UK Membership: http://www.fpvuk.org/store/
- BMFA Membership: https://bmfa.org/Join-Renew/Join-the-BMFA
Choose a suitable flying site that is away from people, property and well clear of airports and airfields. Airspace restrictions around airports and airfields extend below 400ft, so are best avoided as flying sites for your drone. If you intend to fly on private land you should seek the permission of the landowner. If you plan to fly on public land, such as a park then you must ensure that there are no bylaws in place specifically prohibiting or restricting model flying. In both cases, the main consideration is that of the overall suitability of the location for the activity, and that all flying can take place in compliance with the ANO. Even if you've found a suitable site, remember that military aircraft and emergency services often fly at or below 500ft, so always keep a good lookout for them.
Airspace restrictions that extend below 400ft are shown on the map below:
Some useful CAA guidance publications: