• Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are a new and evolutionary component of the aviation system, offering several new and exciting opportunities, as well as a number of challenges.
    Unmanned aircraft come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from small handheld types up to large aircraft, potentially a similar size to airliners and, just like manned aircraft, they may be of a fixed wing design, rotary winged, or a combination of both.
    Unmanned Aircraft may also be referred to as:

    • Drones
    • Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)
    • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
    • Model Aircraft
    • Radio Controlled Aircraft

    Regardless of the name used, they all share the common characteristic that the person responsible for piloting the aircraft is not onboard it. Just like any other aircraft however, an unmanned aircraft must always be flown in a safe manner, both with respect to other aircraft in the air and also to people and properties on the ground.

    The CAA’s primary aim is to enable the full and safe integration of all UAS operations into the UK’s total aviation system.

    Types of operation

    The key first principle when discussing the regulation of any UAS is to determine how it is being operated and what process is being used to avoid it colliding with other aircraft, objects or people, which is the primary responsibility of anyone who flies any aircraft.  

    UAS are either operated:

    Within the Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) of the person flying the aircraft

    This means that the aircraft must be able to be clearly seen by the person flying it at all times when it is airborne.  By doing this, the person flying the aircraft is able to monitor its flight path and so manoeuvre it clear of anything that it may collide with.  While corrective spectacles can be used to look at the aircraft, the use of binoculars, telescopes, or any other image enhancing devices are not permitted.

     In simple terms, the aircraft must not be flown out of sight of a human eye.

    Beyond the Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) of the person flying the aircraft

    If the person flying the aircraft is unable to maintain direct unaided visual contact with it while it is airborne, then an alternative method of collision avoidance must be employed in order to ensure that it can still be flown safely.  

    BVLOS flight will normally require either:

    • a technical capability which is equivalent to the ability of a pilot of a manned aircraft uses to ‘see and avoid’ potential conflictions - this is referred to as a Detect and Avoid (DAA) capability
    • a block of airspace to operate in which the unmanned aircraft is ‘segregated’ from other aircraft - because other aircraft are not permitted to enter this airspace block, the unmanned aircraft can operate without the risk of collision, or the need for other collision avoidance capabilities
    • clear evidence that the intended operation will have ‘no aviation threat’ and that the safety of persons and objects on the ground has been properly addressed.

    What is the purpose of your flight? 

    Your flight will broadly fall into one of three types as follows:

    Commercial - where the flight is being conducted for business purposes in return for specific remuneration or other form of valuable consideration. 

    (a specific definition of a commercial operation is contained within the ‘Commercial Operations with Small unmanned aircraft’ section)

    • Private/Non-Commercial - flights that are either:
      • not considered to be recreational,
      • flown for business purposes, but without any remuneration or other valuable consideration being involved 

    While the regulations are the same for all types of flight, there are some specific additional requirements placed on commercial operations involving small unmanned aircraft.
    Within the UK, UAS are currently split into separate categories according to their weight (or mass) as follows:

    • 20kg or less - Small Unmanned Aircraft - this class covers all types including traditional remotely controlled model aeroplanes, helicopters or gliders, as well as the increasingly popular multirotor ‘drones’ and remotely controlled ‘toy’ aircraft.  They normally have a reduced level of regulation imposed on them which is aimed at being proportionate to the risk and complexity or their types of operation.

    • >20kg to 150kg - Light Unmanned Aircraft - this class covers the larger and potentially more complex types of unmanned aircraft and large model aircraft.  They are subject to all aspects of UK aviation law, although it is accepted that they will require to be exempted from many of the requirements.  Approval to operate is normally given following the submission of a Safety Case to the CAA, which is essentially a package of information which demonstrates to us that the unmanned aircraft can be flown safely.

    • Over 150kg - UAS - unmanned aircraft within this class will normally be subjected to the same level of regulatory approval requirement as would be used for traditional manned aircraft.  They will normally be certificated by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), although there is also scope to make approvals for UK only operations via the same process that is used for Light UAS.

    Further Guidance on UAS operations within UK airspace can be found in our UK guidance document CAP 722.