The UK’s airspace is incredibly busy and split into various areas and types of airspace to accommodate the different flying that takes place. Before you fly its vital that you check the airspace in your location to see if its legal and safe to fly there and if there are any planned restrictions in the area.
Permanent airspace restrictions
A number of airspace restrictions exist within the UK and these apply equally to both unmanned and manned aircraft. These areas are referred to as either: Prohibited Areas, Restricted Areas or Danger Areas.
A map, and downloadable file, of these restrictions can be found on the NATS website.
Most of these areas are permanent with the restrictions applying at all times and they are marked on aviation charts and airspace apps. Other portions of airspace may become temporarily restricted, either as a result of a longer term pre-planned event, or in reaction to a short notice occurrence, such as an emergency incident.
Many people use apps and online resources to check airspace. The formal 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 ENR 5 in the AIP document.
When flying in the Specific category, an operator may be required to notify the relevant air traffic control unit if entering controlled airspace within the terms of their authorisation, or if detailed within their operations manual. This is dependent on the type of operation and the mitigations provided within the safety case. See the AMC/GM to UK Regulation (EU) 2019/947, section AMC1 UAS.SPEC.040(1)(b) for further information.
Controlled airspace requirements (airspace classes A,B,C,D,E) do not apply to drones flying in the Open category.
Some restrictions may be established at short notice and can be in any area of airspace, including around airfields, so drone and remotely piloted aircraft pilots must check for any restrictions, every time they fly.
We publicise temporary airspace restrictions using the SkyWise system.
These are also formally notified by the use of the aviation notification system known as NOTAMs, and can be found either within the NATS Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) website in Aeronautical Information Circulars or Briefing Sheets and may also be detailed in airspace alerting apps and websites, providing they use the official AIP source.
Some drone flight planning apps display temporary restrictions, but some do not. Before flying, you must ensure that you have checked for both permanent and temporary restrictions.
Flights of drones and remotely piloted aircraft around most aerodromes (those designated as protected aerodromes) are restricted. Drones and remotely piloted aircraft of any size must not be flown within the Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ) of a protected aerodrome, without appropriate permission.
The FRZ consists of three elements:
- A zone with the same dimensions as the existing Aerodrome Traffic Zone used by traditional aviation. This is a 2 or 2.5 nautical mile radius ‘cylinder’ around the aerodrome, extending 2,000 ft above ground level, centred on the longest runway.
- Runway Protection Zones: A rectangle extending 5Km from the threshold (end) of each runway away from the aerodrome, along the extended runway centreline, and 500m either side - also to a height of 2,000 ft above ground level.
- Additional Zones: In the case where a line that is drawn 1Km beyond the 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.
The diagram above gives an impression of these restrictions. The exact shape of the FRZ varies depending on the specific aerodrome. Prior to flying (unless you have permission to use the areas) you should check to make sure that you are operating well outside these areas from the official sources:
NATS also publishes a map of the restrictions and downloadable versions of this data, as Google Earth or AIXM files. Other UAS mapping and planning websites exist, which also contain this information.
Temporary airspace restrictions may be added at any time which are not displayed on the map.
The list of protected aerodromes also includes heliports, these only comprise the circular (ATZ) portion of the FRZ (and additional zones where applicable), and 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 drone or remotely piloted aircraft may fly within a FRZ. Normally this would be achieved by contacting air traffic control at the airfield. If this is not possible, because the airfield has closed or there was no air traffic control service in the first place, then permission must be sought from the aerodrome operator.
Flights of drones and remotely piloted aircraft around protected space sites are restricted under Air Navigation Order article 94BA. A space site FRZ is a cylinder with radius of 5Km centred on the mid-point of the launch pad, and a height of 2,000ft above ground level.
A protected space site includes:
- Space ports (as defined in the Space Industry act 2018)
An installation at sea, at which controlled and planned landings of spacecraft take place or are to take place, which can be moved from place to place without major dismantling or modification.
We issue guidance to aerodromes in CAP 722C to assist with making decisions about issuing permission for drone and remotely piloted aircraft operations within their FRZ. If you have applied for permission to operate, but believe that this was rejected without proper consideration of the interests set out in CAP722C (i.e. aviation safety, security or other operational interests) then you may notify us via our online form:
We cannot investigate each report, and you may not receive further correspondence after you submit the form, but we do monitor trends of reports and act where appropriate and necessary.
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 unmanned aircraft operations continues to grow, statutory bodies are increasingly aware of how unmanned aircraft operations will affect their areas of responsibility and are developing specific policy, guidelines and byelaws.
In many circumstances, the operation of drones and remotely piloted aircraft falls within the remit of non-aviation national legislation, and local byelaws, for example 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.
Drone and remotely piloted aircraft 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 relevant operating regulations.
Drones and remotely piloted aircraft 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.