Small unmanned aircraft are now widely available for commercial use. More popularly known as drones, just like many other devices, they can cause injury or damage if they are not used responsibly and so are subject to specific safety rules relating to the way they are operated, which are underpinned by UK law.
The regulations are contained within the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO 2016) and there are some specific additional steps that must be taken if a drone is being flown for commercial operations.
Anyone using a small drone needs to be aware of the regulations 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) If a small unmanned aircraft has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, the SUA operator must not cause or permit the aircraft to be flown, and the remote pilot in charge of the aircraft must not fly it-
(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained; or
(b) within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained;
(4A) Paragraph (4) does not apply to any flight within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome (within the meaning given in article 94B).
(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) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, and the remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly it at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, unless the permission of the CAA has been obtained.
(2) This article does not apply to any flight within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome (within the meaning given in article 94B).
(1) This article applies to a flight by a small unmanned aircraft within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome.
(2) The “flight restriction zone” of a protected aerodrome consists of the following two zones-
(a) the “Inner Zone”, which is the area within, and including, the boundary of the
(b) the “Outer Zone”, which is the area between-
(i) the boundary of the aerodrome, and
(ii) a line that is 1 km from the boundary of the aerodrome (the “1 km line”).
(3) In the circumstances set out in an entry in column 1 of the following table-
(a) the SUA operator must not cause or permit the small unmanned aircraft to be flown in the Inner Zone or the Outer Zone, and
(b) the remote pilot of the small unmanned aircraft must not fly it in the Inner Zone or the Outer Zone, if the flight breaches a flight restriction set out in the entry in column 3 of the table which relates to that zone in those circumstances.
Inner Zone or
(a) There is neither an air traffic control unit nor a flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome; or
(b) there is either an air traffic control unit or a flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome, and the flight takes place outside the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit or flight information service unit; or
(c) there are both an air traffic control unit and a flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome, and the flight takes place outside the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit and outside the notified hours of watch of the flight information service unit.
(1) A flight at a height up to and including 400 feet above the surface is prohibited unless the permission of the operator of the aerodrome has been obtained.
(2) A flight at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface is prohibited unless both-
(a) the permission of the operator of the aerodrome has been obtained, and
(b) the permission of the CAA has been obtained.
(4) 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.
(5) In this article, “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 prescribed description.
(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.
A small unmanned aircraft is defined as ‘any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight’.
A commercial operation is defined as:
‘flight by a small unmanned aircraft except a flight for public transport, or any operation of any other aircraft except an operation for public transport;
in the case of a flight by a small unmanned aircraft, is performed under a contract between the SUA operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the remote pilot
in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.’
The key elements in understanding this term are ‘…any flight by a small unmanned aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’.
The term ‘available to the public’ should be interpreted as being a service or commodity that any member of the public can make use of, or actively choose to use, (e.g. because it has been advertised or offered to someone).
Examples showing how commercial operations are defined are available in our
guidance for small drone operators.
An ‘SUA operator’, in relation to a small unmanned aircraft, is the person who has the management of the small unmanned aircraft.
A congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes’.
These rules have been established to provide a safe environment in which small drones can be flown without coming into conflict with manned aircraft and without risk to other people or properties.
You must have a Permission issued by the CAA before you conduct any commercial operations with your drone.
Indoor use - The applicability of the regulations regarding 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.
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.
If you are a drone operator from overseas and want to carry out work in the UK, the CAA will normally be able to grant permissions to foreign operators, on the basis that you are able to satisfy the same basic safety requirements that are required for UK based operators.
This will depend on the evidence of ‘remote pilot competency’ that the applicant is able to provide and the location(s) where the flying is to take place. Please note that the approvals/qualifications from other nations are not ‘automatically’ accepted as being valid. In order to fly in the UK, you must be in possession of a valid UK permission if the type of flight that you are conducting requires one. Each application is considered on its own merits, but we will take the details of your own national approval/qualification into account when determining your application and the conditions that are set within the permission.
Once you have met the requirements, please follow the
guidance on how to apply and submit your application.
Information should also be supplied about the scope of the operation and where and when it will take place. In the majority of cases, only the ‘standard’ CAA permission is granted. Any aircraft weighing more than 20kg (44 lbs) is subject to a more involved process and are more difficult to approve.
All applications should be made as far in advance as possible.
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