The use of
various types of unmanned aircraft, popularly known as drones, has increased
rapidly in recent years - both for private leisure use, and for commercial
‘aerial work’. Unmanned aircraft are generally fitted with cameras, unlike
traditional remote controlled model aircraft which have been used by
enthusiasts for many years. As such drones are likely to be operated in a way
that may pose a greater risk to the general public and other aircraft. Unlike
manned or model aircraft there are no established operating guidelines so
operators may not be aware of the potential dangers or indeed the
responsibility they have towards avoiding collisions. Anyone flying a drone
either recreationally or commercially has to take responsibility for doing so
aircraft systems (SUAS), sometimes also known as remotely piloted aircraft
systems (RPAS), are now being widely used commercially in the UK. Permission to operate a SUAS for 'aerial
work' is required from the CAA. If you are unsure if your business needs such
permission, then guidance contained on this page should help. Full details of
how to apply are also listed here. If you are in any doubt please email us.
Special permission is also needed to fly a SUAS commercially or recreationally outside of the operating limits set out in the Air Navigation Order - this includes flights in congested areas.
For full guidance on unmanned aircraft systems in UK airspace, please read CAP 722.
At the present time there are no RPA pilot licenses recognised in aviation law. However, it is essential that pilots of any aircraft have at least a basic understanding of the applicable regulations, in particular the Air Navigation Order and Rules of the Air Regulations. Therefore, the CAA will require a potential RPA operator to demonstrate pilot competence before any operating permission is issued.
There are a variety of means of demonstrating pilot competence, the most common being to complete a course where the applicant demonstrates the necessary skills and knowledge by passing a ground exam and flight test. The CAA does not run these courses directly but instead approves commercial National Qualified Entities (NQEs) to conduct the training and assessment on the CAA's behalf.
CAA approved NQEs:
Operators of unmanned aircraft must comply with Regulation (EC) 785/2004 ( Article 2) on Insurance Requirements for Air Carriers and Aircraft Operators. Operators of small unmanned aircraft and small unmanned surveillance aircraft are advised to consult the Regulation to determine the minimum level of insurance required.
All aircraft, including unmanned aircraft, must be operated in a manner that does not create a hazard to people or property. Even very small aircraft can be a hazard when operated in close proximity to people or property and could potentially inflict critical damage to other airspace users.
Articles 166 and 167 of the ANO 2009 explain the specific circumstances in which operating permission must be obtained from the CAA. In summary, permission is not required for aircraft of 20 kg mass or less being flown within direct unaided line of sight and away from people, property and congested areas. Most other operations, including flights in congested areas and those conducted for Aerial Work purposes, will require prior permission from the CAA.
In order to ensure that sufficient safety measures have been put in place, operators that are required to apply for permission from the CAA will be asked to demonstrate that they have considered the safety implications and taken the steps necessary to ensure that the aircraft will not endanger anybody. This may be as simple as preparing a safety case (and/or risk assessment) for a one-off flight. Regular operators may choose to submit an operating manual for approval which will allow them greater freedom to operate regularly without the need to seek further approval from the CAA.
To assist with the production of an operating manual, operators might wish to use the SUA Operations Manual Template.
The Air Navigation Order defines a congested area as being 'any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes'
Permission must be obtained from the CAA to land or operate within a congested area. Permissions granted may be valid for one flight or for a period of up to 12 months.
For more information on the UK Government's drones public dialogue, please see the dedicated website.
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