Whether you are flying a drone for fun or profit you must legally keep your device within your 'visual line of sight' at all times. The law is based on the clear premise that if you can't see your drone, you can't control your drone. For guidance we put an actual measurable distance on this 'line of sight' - which is set out very clearly in our Drone Code.

How high can you fly?

So,  to stay safe you must simply fly your drone no further than 500m away from you horizontally or 400ft above you vertically. That sounds fairly straightforward to achieve, particularly if your drone gives you a distance data reading on your screen telling you how far the device has travelled from its transmitter. However, we do know that some users are flying higher than they should, so it's very important to understand how high 400ft really is to ensure you stay legal and don't inadvertently fly into airspace where a drone shouldn't be. 

As a comparison, the London Eye is 443ft, Blackpool Tower is 518ft and the Spinnaker Tower on the Portsmouth waterfront 560ft. Of course, drones must be kept well away from all structures, as well as built-up areas in general, but if you can visualize any of these landmarks then you know that you need to keep well below their highest point. Of course, manned aircraft can fly lower than 400ft, particularly helicopters, so it is vital you still keep a good lookout.

The same rules apply to first person view technology

First person view (FPV) allows the operator to get a bird's eye view from the drone itself as it relays live footage from the on-board camera to either a handheld screen or special goggles. This activity, while a lot of fun, does not allow you to fly beyond your 'unaided' visual line of sight. As you are not really physically located in the drone, you, or a friend, still have to be able to see it from the ground!  Ultimately, if you think you are flying too high, or are pushing the boundaries, then you probably are. There are no excuses for sending your drone near to an aircraft either deliberately or accidentally. 

Drones offer great potential and can clearly be a lot of fun, but often attract headlines for all the wrong reasons. As the drone community grows it is in everyone's interests to promote responsible and safe use of this exciting new technology.  We want to make sure drone users are flying their devices sensibly and sticking to safe heights and abiding by the rules at all times.

The height limits for flying a drone are clear. Stay low and stay safe.


Comments

Jono 4 months ago / Reply

Clear info of facts Thank youAll I hope now is santa comes tonight as I have been a very good boy this year so I can join drone users.

Lyndon Fisher 7 months ago / Reply

Great site. Will use regularly as in the drone business now. Thank you.

Edward 8 months ago / Reply

Recently I flee my drone near to Hampton Court and the message popped up on my iPad saying something about being in a category D area. Can you tell me what that means please?

Edward 7 months ago

Thank you for your reply. The drone was not over the palace grounds but neither was it blocked by geofencing at any point. Could you just clarify that flying a small drone (DJI Phantom) is allowed in category D airspace?Thank you

Richard Taylor 8 months ago

It is likely your drone was alerting you to the close proximity of a restricted area. Many historic landmarks, as well as Royal Parks, do not allow the use of drones within their vicinity. Your drone is fitted with a technology called geofencing which prevents the operator from flying over these restricted areas.

Paul Wright 9 months ago / Reply

Very timely reminder. I fly a fixed wing UAV which flies at a set altitude. If I fly at 80m then over a 100m cliff on a coast (but I'm still in LOS), my height AGL is now 180m isn't it, and I'm no longer legal, or am I? The same question would crop up, but in the opposite sense, if I surveyed mountainous areas in order to survey the peaks from below I might have start at an altitude in excess of 400ft? Both rare occurrences, but I'm curious about the rules in these situations

Richard Taylor 8 months ago

Hi Paul, 400ft is the recommended maximum distance separation between the drone and the operator, not the drone and the ground (or sea). The key requirement here is to ensure the drone is within your unaided direct visual line of sight at all times and it is kept at least 50m away from any people, buildings, structures and vehicles for the duration of the flight.

Michael Fisher 9 months ago / Reply

For the sake of both clarity and precision can you please define whether the 400 Feet altitude restriction refers to AGL (Above Ground Level) or to AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level)?

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

Hi Michael, it refers to the maximum vertical distance the drone should be from the operator, so it is not a reference to either AGL or AMSL.

Hermann Rose 10 months ago / Reply

I'm from Germany. Am I allowed to fly a DJI 3 drone in the UK ? I have a German pilot license and will buy an ICAO map for the area I want to visit to avoid restricted airspaces. Do I need extra permission?

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

No, if you are simply flying for recreation and not for commercial gain then you do not need permission from us. Please just make sure you are familiar with the operating restrictions in the UK.

Hermann Rose 10 months ago / Reply

I'm from Germany. Am I allowed to fly a DJI 3 drone in the UK ? I have a German pilot license and will buy an ICAO map for the area I want to visit to avoid restricted airspaces. Do I need extra permission?

Richard Taylor 10 months ago

If you will be flying your drone for fun, and not to make money, then you do not need any permission from us. You must however stick to the operating rules explained here www.caa.co.ukdroneaware If you would like to use your Phantom for commercial gain then please see the advice here www.caa.co.ukdrones.

R Arlett 10 months ago / Reply

What is the law for waypoint drones is it the same for radio controlled drones? The kids are now taught programming in school so are now using there knowledge to build waypoint drones. Some are gone for hours and cover large distances.

Richard Taylor 10 months ago

It is important to understand that all drones must be flown within 'visual line of sight' at all times, they cannot fly large distances away from the person in control on preprogrammed routes. Visual line of sight is measured as 400ft vertically and 500m horizontally. It is vital that the person in control of a drone can see the device well enough to avoid a collision with an aircraft. It is illegal to operate a drone in the UK outside of visual line of sight unless the person flying it has specific permission from the CAA.

Jamie Neill 10 months ago / Reply

Dear Sir or Madam,I'm writing to ask if I can fly my drone for aerial film and photo work ?I hold a PPLH and wonder if this is sufficient to do so ?Could you let me know at your earliest convenience please.Best RegardsJamie Neill

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

If you want to use your drone for any kind of commercial work then you do need permission from the CAA. You can find out details of the process at www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-industry/Aircraft/Unmanned-aircraft/Apply-for-a-permission-to-fly-drones-for-commercial-work/.

devon rai 10 months ago / Reply

I am from Canada and was wondering if I can fly my drone at the london eye, Buckingham Palace, and south bank.

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

Hi Devon, these sites are in what we term ‘congested areas’ where drones are not allowed to fly. Additionally, you are not allowed to fly within 50m of any building or structure not within your control.

R Arlett 10 months ago / Reply

What is the law for waypoint drones is it the same for radio controlled drones. The kids are now taught programming in school so are now using there knowledge to build waypoint drones. Some are gone for hours and cover large distances.

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

Drones need to be kept within the visual line of sight of the operator at all times, even if they are pre-programmed to fly a set route. A drone should never be flown out of sight of the operator.

Dave Tigwell 11 months ago / Reply

A device under 3.5 kg is very small and would be invisible at the FPV height allowance of 1000ft.DJI Phantoms weigh under 2 kg and are very popular with the uninformed public so a limit of 400ft is sensible in these cases. I have been flying large balsa fixed wing models at heights unknown, but, of necessity, within view for control purposes. I checked the ANO and devices under 7kg didn't appear to be restricted on height. It seems that the CAA are trying to tell us we are flying illegally when we are not. Presumably quad copters are to follow the same rules as fixed wing models.

Richard Taylor 7 months ago

Our intention is certainly not to target model flyers who are generally very aware of airspace procedures. Drones are a new safety challenge for us which is why our guidance is for anyone operating a drone (multi rotor or fixed wing) to keep under 400ft.

Danny Chapman 11 months ago / Reply

Im afraid I find it rather worrying that in spite of comments, you still havent corrected your article. In particular, the statement to stay within the law you must simply fly your drone no further than 500m away from you horizontally or 400ft above you vertically is simply incorrect. It is a good guideline for casual park fliers, but flying 500m, 400ft away is neither necessary nor sufficient to comply with the law. It is perfectly legal to fly a radio controlled aircraft (20kg) above 400ft so long as the rules in CAP 658 are obeyed (character limit prevents me quoting). I sympathise hugely with what you are saying, but it must be presented as strong guidance, not an interpretation of the law. You can say above 400ft you might be legal, but youre on thin ice if you have an accident. Otherwise it muddies the waters (which used to be quite clear) yet further, and will confuse the politicians who might be awfully close to wrecking our model aircraft flying traditions.

Richard Taylor 11 months ago

Thanks, your feedback is appreciated. Ultimately it all comes down to the obligation to keep a drone (or model aircraft) within visual line of sight at all times. We think 400ft is a very appropriate marker for VSOL for all drone users to stick to in order to avoid collisions with other airspace users. Flying above this level with any size of drone greatly reduces the ability to see and avoid collisions.

Tom 11 months ago / Reply

I dont know why you are saying you cant fly above 400ft when your OWN rules contradict the main jist of the article entirely.As mentioned above the CAA rules say you can fly over 400ft for under 7kg. This is safe. Incidents with full sized aircraft and model aircraft are extremely rare indeed.

Richard Taylor 11 months ago

The relevant rule here is this: The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. We think an appropriate reference point for the safe limit of 'direct, unaided visual contact' is 400ft vertically.I am afraid we have to disagree with you that flying a drone over 400ft is safe. Helicopters and light aircraft routinely fly in airspace above 400ft in all parts of the UK. Ultimately, drone flyers have an obligation to avoid collisions in exactly the same way as pilots of manned aircraft do.

Allan Warner 11 months ago / Reply

Considering that it now seems to be common practice in official documents (EU proposed rigs etc.) to use the term drone; to cover all types of unmanned remotely piloted aircraft and not just multi rotors it would be nice if you could quote your own rules accurately. If you mean multi rotor machines then say so and dont use an allencompassing term which leaves people to assume by inference what you are referring to. As a long time aero modeller flying line of sight I know that as the rules stand at the moment, for example, if my plane is under 7kg I am not restricted to 400ft altitude but if over 7kg then it is. Also, you overlook the altitude exemption (up to 1000ft) given to FPV aircraft under 3.5kg. What hope is there of the general public understanding and complying with the rules when the controlling authority puts out misleading and incorrect information?

Richard Taylor 11 months ago

Thanks for your feedback. It certainly was not our intention to mislead. FPV aero model flying usually takes place in large open areas by people who are generally aware of other airspace users. We are not currently convinced that the same is true of all recreational drones users, FPV or otherwise. We are therefore very keen that these users stick to visual line of sight (FPV users need a spotter) at all times to avoid any problems, and we think it is appropriate that VLOS is measured at 400ft vertically.

Alan Lucas 11 months ago / Reply

I firmly believe that ALL drones should be registered.

Steve Jack 11 months ago

I firmly believe that registering all recreational small unmanned aircraft would be a waste of resources that would be better used for education and for enforcing the existing laws. As I read the ANO (article 166) and CAP 658, the 400ft rule only applies to small unmanned aircraft (SUA) over 7kg. For SUA below 7kg, the requirement is simply that the person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

Allan Warner 11 months ago

Alan Lucas, I presume you know that the term drone is used to cover ALL remotely piloted aircraft (gliders, power and helicopters) and not just multi rotors. Many power and glider model aircraft are handcrafted from plans and made out of wood. They are therefore individual creations without manufacturers serial numbers etc. that can be cross referenced to registration numbers. Registration does not prevent breaking of rules and laws, just take a drive and see the number of registered cars breaking the law. Enforcement of the existing rules and laws will greatly reduce the number of transgressors. But, whatever you do you will never completely eliminate the rogue operators; bad boys or someone with evil intentions.

Richard Taylor 11 months ago

Thank you for your comment. The Government will be running a public consultation in the summer which will look at issues such as registraion of drones. It will be publicised by the Department for Transport, so keep an eye out and please let them know your views.


Leave a Comment

Name help text
Email help text
Comment help text
/ 1000 characters left