The safety regulations are mainly contained in Articles 94 and 95 of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) which is referenced in CAP 393.
These are safety regulations and do not encompass matters relating to privacy and security. The ANO articles set limits on where drones may fly and whether they can be used for commercial purposes (commercial operations).
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 person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if
reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
(3) 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.
(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which 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, must not fly the
(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air
traffic control unit has been obtained;
(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;
(c) at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in
airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the
requirements for that airspace.
(5) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for
the purposes of commercial operations except in accordance with a permission granted by
(1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the
aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) 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
(c) within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the
control of the person in charge of the aircraft;
(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 person in charge of the small
unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in
charge 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
Before describing the differences, it is important to note that both can be classified as small unmanned aircraft and that the aviation regulations above, covering how and where they can be used, apply equally to both.
In terms of these regulations (the Air Navigation Order), a small unmanned aircraft means any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20kg without its fuel, but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight. When an unmanned aircraft weights more than 20kg, additional regulations come into play and recreational aircraft in this category are usually classified as large model aircraft.
Recent technological advances mean that a much greater variety of small unmanned aircraft are now available. These vary from the ready-to-fly multi-rotor types that represent the popular conception of a ‘drone’, through to the traditional kit or plans-built model aeroplane or helicopter. A typical multi-rotor drone is heavily gyro-stabilised and can use GPS for guidance in addition to acting on Radio Frequency (RF) commands from the pilot. The traditional model aircraft usually uses only an RF signal for commands from the pilot, requires much greater pilot training and skill, and is flown only at specific recreational sites away from persons and property.
In regulatory terms, the only real distinctions made are that small unmanned aircraft used for commercial purposes, or those that are fitted with a camera (i.e. equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition), have additional requirements or limitations that restrict their use in certain circumstances.
In practice, the vast majority of small unmanned aircraft used for commercial work are of the camera-equipped multi-rotor drone type. These vary in size and capability and, unlike traditional model aircraft, are increasingly being used for specific purposes including photographic flights in urban areas. This type of use can be unsafe and present a conflict with other activities; the drone pilot must understand that flight close to other aircraft, people or habitation and at outdoor events can pose a real risk to public safety.
The Police use of drones comes under civil aviation legislation and their operators work under the same safety criteria applied to commercial permission holders.
ANO Article 266 allows the CAA to exempt operators from, or to change, the normally applicable limitations. Exemptions may on occasion be granted in exceptional circumstances in the public interest and when there is no major departure from the normally-accepted level of risk. Due to their existing statutory powers, the Police already have the means to limit and control access at certain sites and events (accidents, cordons etc).
The regulations make no distinction between flights made indoors or in the open; the whole safety criteria continue to apply. Notwithstanding this, certain hazard factors are heavily mitigated by the fact that the aircraft is flying in an enclosed environment and access to the venue can be controlled.
People inside the building, who may be exposed to a hazard by the flight, should meet the criteria for ‘persons under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft’ or else have safety precautions taken on their account (e.g. safety netting, tethered drone, etc).
Minor indoor recreational use of a very small and light ‘toy’ drones is not generally regarded as having the same safety implications as for larger drones used outdoors or in commercial service.
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