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) 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.
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.
Guidance on the exemption and the conditions that must be observed whilst employing this privilege.
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.
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
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