The regulations for recreational drone flights are contained within the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) which is the primary document for all aviation regulations within the UK. In order to keep the regulations at a proportionate level for these small drones, a set of specific, simpler, regulations apply to aircraft that have a mass of 20kg or less (which are termed ‘small unmanned aircraft’ within the ANO).
In simple terms, these regulations state that:
you must not fly more than 400ft above the surface. If flying over hilly/undulating terrain or close to a cliff edge, this may be interpreted as being a requirement to remain within a distance of 400ft from the surface of the earth, as shown in the picture below
If your drone is fitted with a camera, there are also a number of additional limitations surrounding where you can fly it, and how close you can fly it to other uninvolved people or objects. In order to be able to fly within these areas, or closer than the minimum distances that are in the regulations, you must obtain prior Permission from the CAA to do so.
The full regulations are shown below.
A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger
any person or property
(1) A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
(2) The remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
(3) The remote pilot 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.
(4) Intentionally blank (articles removed)
(5) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown for the purposes of commercial operations, and the remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly it for the purposes of commercial operations, except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.
(1) If the permission or permissions that are required under this article for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft have not been obtained-
(a) the SUA operator must not cause or permit the small unmanned aircraft to be flown on that flight or that part of the flight; and
(b) the remote pilot must not fly the small unmanned aircraft on that flight or that part of the flight.
(2) Permission from the CAA is required for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface
(3) But permission from the CAA is not required under paragraph (2) if-
(a) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place in a flight restriction zone at a protected aerodrome, and
(b) permission for the flight, or the part of the flight, is required under paragraph (4) from an air traffic control unit or a flight information service unit.
(4) Permission for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft in the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome is required-
(a) from any air traffic control unit at the protected aerodrome, if the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place during the operational hours of the air traffic control unit;
(b) from any flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome, if the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place during the operational hours of the flight information service unit and either-
(i) there is no air traffic control unit at the protected aerodrome, or
(ii) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place outside the operational hours of the air traffic control unit at the protected aerodrome;
(c) from the operator of the protected aerodrome, if-
(i) there is neither an air traffic control unit nor a flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome; or
(ii) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place outside the operational hours of any such unit or units at the protected aerodrome.
(5) In this article, “operational hours”, in relation to an air traffic control unit or flight information service unit, means the operational hours-
(a) notified in relation to the unit, or
(b) set out in the UK military AIP in relation to the unit.
(6) In this article and article 94B, “protected aerodrome” means-
(a) an EASA certified aerodrome,
(b) a Government aerodrome,
(c) a national licensed aerodrome, or
(d) an aerodrome that is prescribed, or of a description prescribed, for the purposes of this paragraph.
(7) The “flight restriction zone” of a protected aerodrome is to be determined for the purposes of this article in accordance with the following table-
A protected aerodrome which is-
(b) a Government aerodrome, or
(c) a national licensed aerodrome,
and which has an aerodrome traffic zone.
The flight restriction zone consists of-
(a) the aerodrome traffic zone at the aerodrome,
(b) any runway protection zones at the aerodrome, and
(c) any additional boundary zones at the aerodrome.
but which does not have an aerodrome traffic zone.
The flight restriction zone consists of the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within the area bounded by a circle centred on the notified mid-point of the longest runway and having a radius of two nautical miles.
But if the longest runway does not have a notified mid-point, the mid-point of that runway is to be used instead for the purposes of determining the flight restriction zone.
(1) This article makes provision about the meaning of expressions used in the definition of “flight restriction zone” in article 94A that applies in relation to a protected aerodrome which is-
(2) Subject to paragraph (4), there is one runway protection zone for each runway threshold of each runway at the aerodrome.
(3) A “runway protection zone”, in relation to a runway threshold at the aerodrome, is the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within the area bounded by a rectangle-
(a) whose longer sides measure 5 km;
(b) whose shorter sides measure-
(i) 1 km (except in the case of Heathrow Airport);
(ii) 1.5 km, in the case of Heathrow Airport; and
(c) which is positioned so that-
(i) one of the shorter sides of the rectangle (“side A”) runs across the runway threshold, and
(ii) the two longer sides of the rectangle are parallel to, and equidistant from, the extended runway centre line as it extends from side A out to, and beyond, the runway end to which the runway threshold relates.
(4) There is no runway protection zone-
(a) for any runway threshold at the London Heliport;
(b) for any runway threshold that is prescribed, or of a description prescribed, for the purposes of this paragraph.
(5) The “runway threshold” of a runway at the aerodrome is the location that, for the purpose of demarcating the start of the portion of the runway that is useable for landing, is-
(a) notified as the threshold of the runway, or
(b) set out as the threshold of the runway in the UK military AIP.
(6) The “extended runway centre line”, in relation to a runway at the aerodrome, is an imaginary straight line which runs for the length of the runway along its centre and then extends beyond both ends of the runway.
(7) An “additional boundary zone” is the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within any part of the area between-
(a) the boundary of the aerodrome, and
(b) a line that is 1 km from the boundary of the aerodrome (the “1 km line”),
that is neither within the aerodrome traffic zone nor within any runway protection zone at the aerodrome.
(8) The 1 km line is to be drawn so that the area which is bounded by it includes every location that is 1 km from the boundary of the aerodrome, measured in any direction from any point on the boundary.
(1) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned surveillance aircraft to be flown in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2), and the remote pilot of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly it in any of those circumstances, except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.
(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are-
(a) over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
(b) over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
(c) within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the SUA operator or the remote pilot of the aircraft; or
(d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.
(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.
(4) Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the remote pilot of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the remote pilot of the aircraft.
(5) In this article, “a small unmanned surveillance aircraft” means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.
In aviation terms, ‘height’ means the vertical distance of an object (in this case the small unmanned aircraft) from a specified point of datum (in this case above the surface of the earth). To cater for the few occasions where a small unmanned aircraft is being flown over
hilly/undulating terrain or close to a cliff edge, the 400 ft height above the surface requirement may be interpreted as being a requirement to remain within a 400 ft distance from the surface, as shown in the diagram below. For the purposes of Article 94A, this is considered to be an acceptable means of
compliance with the legal requirement.
Remember that the limitation applies to ‘heights above/distances from’ the surface of the earth. It does not automatically apply to heights/distances from tall buildings or other structures: in such cases, an additional permission from the CAA will be
required, which will invariably also require permission to operate within a congested area.
Drones that are fitted with video cameras
often provide an opportunity to downlink ‘live’ video to the person flying the
drone either via a mobile phone, tablet computer or other screen, or even
through video goggles - this capability provides the operator with a pseudo
‘pilots eye view’ from the drone itself and is generally given the term ‘First
Person view’ (FPV).
However, the law [at ANO article 94(3)]
requires that the person in charge of a drone must maintain direct unaided
visual contact with the aircraft which is sufficient to monitor its flight path
so that collisions may be avoided. This
is obviously not possible if that person is wearing video goggles or otherwise
constantly monitoring a display.
Therefore, FPV flight is only permitted if the activity has been
approved by the CAA. A General Exemption
has been issued which allows an element of ‘First Person View’ (FPV) flight to
be conducted. If you wish to conduct an FPV flight which
cannot be accommodated within the terms of this General Exemption, then you
will need to apply to the CAA for an Exemption to do so.
Note: Images captured by a
camera and displayed on a flat screen afford the pilot little by way of depth
perception and no peripheral vision. This can make it difficult for the pilot
to accurately judge speed and distance and to maintain sufficient awareness of
the area surrounding the aircraft to effectively ‘see and avoid’ obstacles and
other aircraft - as a result, the
use of FPV equipment is not an acceptable mitigation for Beyond Visual Line of
Sight flight unless the relevant operator has received a specific approval to
do so from the CAA.
The applicability of the regulations with regard to
flights within buildings has been clarified recently. Under the CAA Act 1982, the Air Navigation Order
is made for the purposes of regulating
air navigation. Flights inside
buildings have nothing to do with air navigation because they can have no
effect on flights by aircraft in the open air.
As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no
possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’
netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation. Persons intending to operate drones indoors
should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations.
The CAA regularly receives queries regarding who may impose
restrictions on drone use and the land from which they are piloted. The CAA can only provide information on its
own regulations and permissions process and not those imposed by other bodies.
As set out in CAP 722, a CAA permission only addresses the
flight safety aspects of the flight operation and does not constitute
permission to disregard the legitimate interests of other statutory bodies such
as the Police and Emergency Services, Highways England, Data Commission,
Transport for London or local authorities. It may also be the case that more
than one body has an interest in a proposed flight.
The CAA cannot provide advice on what is, or is not, a
legitimate interest or whether restrictions or fees are being lawfully imposed
by other authorities. However, any
authority or regulatory body should be able to identify the specific laws,
regulations or bye-laws that empower it to regulate the use of UAS, or more
usually, the land from which they are operated, much as the CAA has set out the
regulations that it applies, above. We
therefore recommend that if you are unsure of whether a restriction imposed by
a body legitimately applies to your flight, you request that information from
the relevant authority or regulatory body.
UAS operators and remote pilots are also reminded that ANO
Article 241 provides that a person must not recklessly or negligently cause or
permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.
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