EU & UK Drone Regulations, An Inside Look

BY Alan Perlman
3 November 2015

hs01The below post comes from Merryn Wilderspin, one of our UAV Boot Camp students and a UK-based drone pilot finishing up her CAA training in order to get her Permission For Aerial Work (PFAW) license. You can learn more about Merryn on her website, Ashcroft Interactive.

 

Well it’s now November already and I’ve been flying a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced for the last eight weeks whilst training for my CAA ‘Permission for aerial work’ license (PFAW) which is required for undertaking commercial work in the UK.

I passed my ground school aviation exam in late October and am now feverishly practicing figure eights and emergency landings in anticipation of my flight test in the next few weeks and, just to make my flying extra challenging, I live in an area of intense air activity (AIAA – which means low flying military hardware) as well as on the edge of Fylingdales HIRTA with its attendant potential effects on my transmission signals if I dare venture too far outside of my front door…

Aside from improving my actual flying ability however, the key to unlocking the flight test date is the drafting of my ‘Operations Manual’ which the CAA regards as the mantra by which I ultimately fly – and which, in the case of failing to fly and crashing, becomes the focus of intense scrutiny – especially if someone gets hurt. So, I’m taking lots of time over that particular element. I really need this for the flight test as thee examiner will want to see that I am basing my approach and actions on its content.

UAVs in the UK Media

Coincidental to my take-up of UAV technology since August has been the UK media’s increased coverage of drone disasters – though I’m happy to say that the two aren’t in any way connected.

The only stains on my own conscience and propellers so far are from one particular incident where I managed to fly sideways into my garden trellis resulting in the P3A pancaking vertically against it with two props wedged in amongst a rather surprised and ruffled clematis. (To be on the safe side, I did renew the propellers even though they were only a little scuffed…)

Such is the expectation of daily newsworthy drone column inches, that the BBC news app now has a dedicated sub-news section covering all aspects of UAV activity from military to civilian.

Increased Vigilance by the CAA

The CAA has been certainly taking a growing active interest in locating and prosecuting errant UAV users and has been using video evidence where available to help both warn users and secure convictions when alerted by YouTube footage or recovered from crash sites.

One such example has been the imposition of an £800 fine and the award of £3500 costs against Robert Knowles, a hobbyist, who narrowly avoided hitting a bridge before ditching into the restricted waters of the Barrow-in-Furness nuclear submarine base.

The footage recovered from Robert Knowle’s doomed flight….

Even the poor old memorial in Scotland to William Wallace (‘Braveheart’) hasn’t remained immune as some flyer recently flew too close and managed to break a window in the process. (They really should be hung, drawn and quartered and turned in Haggis…)

See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-34542583

Attempting to work commercially without a license has already led to a CAA caution when Lawrence Clift sold video of a school fire to the media.

UAVs and EU/UK Regulations

Essentially, there are three key issues relating to the use of UAV activity in the UK: insurance, safety and privacy.

By default all of these apply to both hobbyists and commercial operators alike although, in reality, many hobbyists acquiring a UAV for the first time appear to be largely unaware of this situation and many appear to be currently flying in complete ignorance of both such requirements and the possible related consequences.

The UK is of course part of the European Union and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has overall responsibility for European level aviation safety issues.

However, in relation to UAVs, the only direct EU wide regulation is that any ‘Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) weighing 150kg or less must have adequate insurance cover.

At hobbyist level, this is largely obtained via the British Model Flying Association but at commercial level can be obtained from a rapidly increasing number of suppliers.

In relation to safety, it’s the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) which controls UK airspace and produces the relevant rules and regulations which are enshrined within the Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 393 Air Navigation Order – and which includes specific details relating to SUAs. In essence:

  • Article 138 rules against flying recklessly or negligently in order to limit potential danger to people and property
  • Article 166 rules in relation to e.g.: dropping objects; being satisfied that flights can
    be undertaken safely; that SUAs with a mass of more than 7kg must not fly in
    certain classes of air space or control zones unless cleared by air traffic control;
    flying at a maximum height of 400’ unless complying with relevant airspace requirements; and prohibiting commercial work without a license.
  • Article 167 relates especially to privacy issues (whilst also reflecting safety) and
    states that SUAs of any weight fitted with any kind of surveillance or data
    acquisition equipment must not be flown without a CAA license permission:

    • over or within 150m of any congested area
    • over or within 150m of an organized open-air assembly of more than 1000 people
    • within 50m of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under pilot control
    • within 50m of any person

In addition, the mandatory requirement for UAV pilots to abide by visual line of sight rules (VLOS) means that horizontal flight distance is limited to a maximum distance of 500m from take-off point.

Working as a Commercial Drone Pilot in the UK

For commercial work, the basic CAA issued Permission for Aerial Work license (PFAW) removes the restriction in relation to flying over congested areas and, subject to additional detailed safety-based representation, the basic permission can be enhanced on a one-off or ongoing basis to permit aerial work closer to buildings and people.

PFAWs for sub 20kg UAVs have been required since 2010. Very few licenses were actually issued until 2014 with a more dramatic increase since spring this year with the result that as of September 2015, the CAA lists 1036 active licensed UAV operators within the UK. The majority appear to be related to photography and video with the remainder appearing to be specialist surveying related.

And finally!

On 5-6th December the first major national UK drone show will be held at the NEC near Birmingham and I’ll look to report on that and some other events that I’m attending in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, back to my figure 8s and more ATTI mode practice 🙂

Alan Perlman

Founder & CEO

Alan is an FAA-certified drone pilot and founded UAV Coach in 2014 to help connect drone enthusiasts, to provide world-class sUAS industry training courses, and to help push the drone community forward with a focus on safety and commercial opportunities.

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