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An Introduction to UK Drone Regulations

BY Alan Perlman
30 July 2016

Note: This is a guest post from Sam over at Heliguy, one of the leading drone retailers and training companies in the UK.


While there aren’t currently any recognized Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) licenses in UK aviation law, it’s essential that those wanting to pilot drones have a basic understanding of existing guidelines. These are detailed in both the Air Navigation Order and Rules of the Air Regulations.

Essentially, anybody using a drone, for whatever purpose, has to take full responsibility for ensuring that safety is always made a priority.

To support these regulations, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires that anyone wishing to pilot a drone is able demonstrate a certain level of competence before permissions are issued. This is especially true of those wanting to use UAVs as part of a commercial operation.

The recommended approach is to attend a course where you sit a theory test which covers essential skills and knowledge, before undertaking a practical flight test.

It’s worth noting that the CAA doesn’t run these courses themselves, they provide approval for National Qualified Entities (NQEs) like Heliguy to offer
this training and assessment on their behalf.

CAA Requirements

CAA-LogoThe CAA have put together a series of guidelines which govern how to fly drones responsibly in the UK. Known as the ‘Dronecode’, it states that UAVs must:

  • Be visible at all times
  • Remain below 400ft
  • Not be flown over congested areas

In addition, when piloting an aerial camera, they recommend that:

  • They should not be flown within 50m of people, vehicles or buildings
  • Pilots must also be mindful of privacy when taking pictures
  • Those using a drone to make money, e.g. for aerial photography, must get permission from the CAA and complete a training programme to demonstrate their competence with the craft

CAA Permissions

Currently you must obtain CAA permission if any of the following apply:

  • You intend to operate a drone which is 20-150kg
  • You are going to make money from using the drone
  • You are seeking to use your drone’s camera in public

Drone Regulation in the News

Due to the growth of drones’ popularity, there has been a keener focus by the media on the untrained, casual users who occasionally endanger the general public and other aircraft.

While thankfully these are isolated incidents, they are likely to have a huge impact on regulatory decisions. The most recent occurrence in the UK took place on 17th April when what is suspected to have been a drone collided with a place landing at Heathrow airport.

While there isn’t any concrete regulation from the CAA on this matter, (they’ve said that, in theory, crafts under 7kg could be permitted to fly in restricted airspace) UK laws states that anyone found guilty of endangering an aircraft could face up to five years in jail.

The Future of Drone Regulation

With incidents like the aforementioned collision grabbing both headlines and the public’s imagination, there’s undoubtedly changes to UAV regulation in the works, both across the UK and worldwide.

As governments and regulatory bodies increasingly set their sights on drones and their users, there’s bound to be many heated discussions before we find the appropriate balance between pilot responsibility and legal oversight.

As a Nationally Qualified Entity recognized by the CAA, Heliguy pride ourselves on playing an active role in the current discussion on drone regulation. We’re a supplier, builder and training provider, with years of industry experience.

Visit our website to find out more.

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