• In line with long-standing international agreements, the UK has a well-established system for notifying blocks of airspace where particular limitations are placed on the flight of all aircraft (manned and unmanned).  Such areas are typically either: Prohibited Areas, Restricted Areas or Danger Areas (military ranges etc).  Other airspace may have temporary restrictions imposed at specific times, either as a result of a longer term pre-planned event, or in reaction to a short notice occurrence, such as an emergency incident.  Further details can be found in the UK Aeronautical Information Package (UK AIP) at the NATS Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) website.  General airspace Rules and Procedures can be found at section ENR 1.1, and specific ‘Navigation Warnings’ can be found at section and ENR 5.

    Permanent Prohibited, Restricted or Danger areas are marked on aviation ‘Visual Flight Rules’ (VFR) flight charts (maps) which are readily available for purchase online or at local flight schools/clubs.  In addition, proprietary VFR flight-planning and navigation software and apps contain such information in their mapping databases.  A free, limited, version of such software is available here: www.skydemonlight.com.  Other Apps are also available, such as the ‘Drone Assist’ App which can be accessed through the Dronesafe website.

    It is occasionally necessary to institute temporary restrictions of airspace (‘Restricted Area – Temporary’).  These are usually shared via Aeronautical Information Circulars or, if done at very short notice, via the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system.  These temporary restrictions are also listed on the AIS website.  It is important to note that these restricted areas apply to all aircraft including drones, regardless of weight or height of operation.

    Flight restrictions around aerodromes

    Flights of drones around airfields or airports that are designated as ‘protected aerodromes’ are tightly restricted. Drones of any size must not be flown within the Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ) of a protected aerodrome, without appropriate permission.

    The Flight Restriction Zone consists of the following three elements:

    - The Aerodrome Traffic Zone: A 2 or 2.5 nautical mile radius ‘cylinder’ around the aerodrome, extending 2000 ft above ground level, centred on the longest runway.

    - Runway Protection Zones: A rectangle extending 5Km from the threshold of the runway away from the aerodrome, along the extended runway centreline, and 500m either side-  also to a height of 2000 ft above ground level.

    - Additional Zones: In the case where the 1Km boundary of an aerodrome extends beyond the Aerodrome traffic zone, and so would not be protected by it, the flight restriction zone will include a ‘bump’ (the airfield boundary + 1KM) to protect this part of the aerodrome.

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    The exact shape of the Flight Restriction Zone varies depending on the specific aerodrome that it protects. Prior to flight, remote pilots should check to ensure that they are operating well outside these areas. This may be obtained from official sources:

    The Dronesafe website contains an interactive map, which shows the all the Aerodrome FRZs. 

    Other UAS mapping and planning websites exist, which contain this information as well.

    The list of protected aerodromes also includes heliports, these only comprise the ATZ portion of the FRZ (and additional zones where applicable), i.e. do not include runway protection zones. 

    In the case of a protected aerodrome without an ATZ, the FRZ includes an ATZ shaped FRZ, with a 2nm radius (regardless of the runway length).  

    Permission must be obtained from the relevant person before a small drone may fly within a Flight Restriction Zone. This person is usually whoever is ‘in the Tower’ (i.e. an Air Traffic Controller or Airfield Flight Information Service Officer’. If neither of these are available, because the airfield has closed or there was no ATC/AFIS provision in the first place, then permission must be sought from the Aerodrome Operator.

    Type of Air Traffic Control Service Within Aerodrome Operating Hours Outside Aerodrome Operating Hours

    Air Traffic Control (ATC)/

     Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS)

     

    The Aerodrome Traffic Service

    (i.e. the person in the tower)

    The Aerodrome Operator

    (i.e. the aerodrome operations office)

    Air Ground Radio Service (AG)

    No form of Air Traffic provision at all

     

    The Aerodrome Operator

    (i.e. the aerodrome operations office)

     

    Some Aerodromes consider a UAS flight within an FRZ as a Non Standard Flight (NSF) activity, and therefore the applicant is subject to the NSF process. Contact should be made with the appropriate Air Traffic Service Unit or aerodrome to ascertain how best to apply for permission. The ultimate decision will always be made by the ATSU / aerodrome operator as appropriate.

    Controlled Airspace and Aerodrome Traffic Zones (ATZ)

    There are no separate regulations in place regarding the flight of drones in controlled airspace below 400 ft (Class A,B,C,D,E). Restrictions involving the flight of UAS within Aerodrome Traffic Zones are described in Flight restrictions around aerodromes. Drone pilots are reminded of all other responsibilities, including the Air Navigation Order requirements, that any person in charge of a small drone:

    • may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made and;
    • must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft …for the purpose of avoiding collisions.  Note: The use of normal corrective spectacles is acceptable within the term ‘unaided’

    If operating above 400ft within controlled airspace, the permission to do so granted by the CAA will state that appropriate permission from the relevant Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU) must also be obtained.

    Royal helicopter flight airspace

    When royal flights in helicopters take place airspace known as a Royal Low-Level Corridor (RLLC) is established between the departure and arrival sites; the details of the flights, including the route and timings, are published by NOTAM and so will also be depicted on airspace mapping apps.  

    A RLLC encompasses the airspace five nautical miles either side of the intended track of the Royal helicopter, a five nautical mile ‘circle’ around the departure and arrival sites, and extends from the surface up to 1,000ft above the royal helicopter’s highest planned transit altitude.  RLLCs are also divided into 20 minute ‘sectors’, with checkpoint locations nominated at the start and end of each sector.  

    The key requirements for operators of small unmanned aircraft are to be aware of the flight, keep a good look out and maintain adequate separation from the royal helicopter; however, small unmanned aircraft operators are strongly advised to keep their aircraft at least one nautical mile horizontally clear of the departure and arrival sites during the published active periods (15 minutes before until 30 minutes after the planned departure/arrival time detailed in the NOTAM).  

    Other considerations to take into account before operating

    The role of statutory bodies

    The aviation regulations only address the flight safety aspects of the flight and they do not constitute permission to disregard the legitimate interests of other statutory bodies such as the Police and Emergency Services, the Highway Agency, local authorities or any other statutory body.  As the range and scale of drone operations continues to grow, statutory bodies are increasingly aware of how drone operations will affect their areas of responsibility and are developing specific policy and guidelines.

    In addition to aviation-specific legislation, it is already apparent that drone use, or the effects of drone use, may be construed to be encompassed within the remit of existing national and local legislation (e.g. public-order offences, ensuring pedestrian and vehicle rights-of-way, security and safety in public places and at schools, limits on recreational activities in public parks etc). 

    Any camera equipped drone operator who does not have an additional permission from the CAA, is restricted to remaining at least 150 metres from congested areas or any organised, open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people.  Drone operators must not fly camera fitted drones within a distance of 50 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure that is not under the control of the person in charge of the said aircraft (during take-off and landing this distance may be reduced to 30 metres).  This means that each flight will carry a ground ‘footprint’ below the aircraft, within which there should be no uninvolved members of the public.  This is difficult to achieve in a busy urban environment and will likely involve the drone operator making formal arrangements with the relevant authority to temporarily restrict pedestrian and vehicular access or to restrict access to shops, dwellings and other property.

    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’.

    Drone operators should also be mindful of the requirements of Section 76(1) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 in relation to trespass and nuisance, noting that they must comply, at all times, with the requirements of the Air Navigation Order.  

    Drones should be flown at a height over the property of another person which is ‘reasonable’ in all circumstances. Failure to do so could amount to trespass if the flight interferes with another person’s ordinary use and enjoyment of land and the structures upon it.