Drones are playing an increasing role in both civilian life and commercial operations in the United Kingdom. There are now over 76,000 drones operating in the country, as well as nearly 630,000 jobs in the UK drone economy.
Suffice it to say, if you’re a drone enthusiast or an entrepreneur in the UK, opportunities to use drones abound.
That said, there are some important rules to consider before you rush out and launch a drone. This post will provide everything you need to know and do to start flying safely and in accordance with local customs, laws, and regulations.
First Up: What Exactly Is a Drone?
Before we dive into the specifics of UK drone laws, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Simply put, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—an aircraft that flies without any human on board. A drone consists of a ground-based controller and an aircraft. That’s it.
Drones can range considerably in size. Some are small enough to hold in your hand; others are enormous. At the same time, some fly short flights, whereas others can last in the skies for a long time.
Top Drone Use Cases in the UK
People are using drones today for a variety of purposes. Most civilians are using drones for aerial photography and video.
Commercially, both the public and private sectors are using drones for everything from agriculture (planting and spraying) to aiding with search and rescue operations. Further, organizations in defense, health, and even education are increasingly deploying drones for various reasons.
UK Drone Laws: An Overview
Flying a drone is legal in the UK. Like all nonmilitary aircraft, UK drones are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Here are some of the top rules that civilians should keep in mind before launching a drone in the UK’s skies.
Most countries today have rules governing where you are allowed to operate a drone, including the UK.
In the UK, you can’t fly a drone within 492 feet of any area that is congested. You also can’t fly a drone near an assembly of 1,000 or more people. Beyond that, you can’t fly a drone within 164 feet of any person, vehicle, or building. Unsurprisingly, flying drones over prisons and military bases and critical infrastructure is illegal, too. What’s more, you can’t fly a drone within 3 miles from the boundary of a runway protection zone without gaining clearance from the air traffic control, operator, or flight information service unit.
It’s also important to remember that air space is governed by height as well as geographical location. In the UK, you aren’t allowed to fly a drone more than 400 feet above sea level.
The UK also restricts what you’re allowed to do with a drone. For example, you aren’t allowed to drop any object that may cause harm to people or property. What’s more, drones with cameras also have restrictions limiting where they’re allowed to fly. This is particularly important near public events and stadiums, which may limit commercial recording. So, if you’re looking to film a football game, you’re out of luck.
Line of Sight
Drones need to be kept in your direct line of sight at all times. This is for safety purposes. For example, you can’t fly a drone behind a large building or a tree. You need to ensure the drone remains within eyesight to prevent collisions with other objects, other drones, and people.
There is growing interest in the UAV community about using beyond visual line of sight applications. For further reading on this emerging field, check out our Regulatory Resource Center.
The UK permits commercial drone use. However, you must first obtain permission by the CAA.
To obtain a drone permit from the CAA, you’ll need to fill out their online form. Further approvals are needed for renewals and variations (i.e., special requests).
You’ll also need to obtain liability insurance to fly a drone commercially in the UK. While you don’t need to have insurance for civilian drone operations, it’s still a good idea when you consider that drones can be dangerous and unpredictable.
For example, suppose you take your drone out for a jaunt in the English countryside and you accidentally strike a person, vehicle, or house. Without insurance, you might end up in hot water. So, best practices call for having insurance whenever you operate a drone. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
UK Regulations for Visitors
Here’s some good news: You don’t need to be a UK citizen or a member of the EU to fly a drone in the United Kingdom! Believe it or not, you can even bring your own drone to fly in the country, putting a new spin on the concept of BYOD. However, there are some considerations you’ll have to adhere to.
Just keep in mind that certain types of operations may require special permission. That being the case, make sure to plan your flight ahead of time and check with local authorities if you have any questions about the type of drone operation you’re looking to do. You should also remember that the CAA might not accept some foreign qualifications.
Basically, research your options ahead of time to make sure you don’t end up booking a trip to fly drones in the UK, only to find out the hard way that you can’t.
FAQ: UK Drone Laws
Is the UK a good place to fly a drone?
The UK is an excellent place to own and operate a drone. England offers some spectacular opportunities for photography and video, from the English Channel to its iconic countryside. The country also has relatively normal laws governing what you can do with a drone, which are in line with most developed countries.
Can you fly a drone near historic sites in England?
Make sure to go through English Heritage if you want to fly a drone on or around a historical site in England. This group is responsible for more than 400 historic sites across the country, including Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.
Unfortunately, English Heritage requires you to obtain their approval before flying drones over their sites. According to the organization, this is to protect both the historic sights and the tourists who frequent them.
Can you blame them?
Can you fly drones in the UK’s national parks?
The UK also restricts drones and other aircraft from flying in national parks. Make sure to check with the National Park system before you go to a site and attempt to fly. Otherwise, you could face penalties and fines.
The Bottom Line
Before you attempt to fly a drone in the UK, make sure you’re ready. Do some research to become familiar with the area you’re flying your drone in. Also, familiarize yourself with the limitations of your craft to avoid causing any damage. You should also be mindful of other people and property at all times.
Keep these points in mind, and you’ll have a great time flying drones in the UK. Here’s to an experience you won’t forget anytime soon!
This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.