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Drones - Your Responsibilities


In the last few years, unmanned aerial vehicles - commonly referred to as drones - have soared in popularity. Where once they were an expensive hobby, the cost of buying a drone off the shelf has fallen, and you can even now buy one from some high street shops.

Anyone can own a drone and you do not have to hold a licence to fly one, just as you wouldn’t need a licence to use a remote controlled car or helicopter.

To fly a drone commercially, pilots must be Civil Aviation Authority approved but hobbyists who just fly for fun do not need to be.

However, it is essential that all drone pilots understand the rules and regulations around flying in the United Kingdom, and the risks they pose to themselves and others whenever they take off. 

What is a drone?

These aircraft have many names: UAVs, Small Unmanned Aircraft, Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft (SUSA), Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), or simply just ‘drone’. They all mean the same thing: an aircraft that is unmanned but controlled from the ground by a pilot using a remote controller, similar to a remote controlled car.

Some drones have propellers, while others have fixed wings, and not all of them carry cameras.

But regardless of the type of drone, there are strict rules and regulations that you must abide by when you fly it.

You are responsible for each flight, you are responsible for avoiding collisions, and should an accident occur as a result of your drone, you will be liable for any compensation or criminal proceedings.

What are the rules?

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) governs the use of drones in the United Kingdom and covers everyone from hobbyists to professional pilots, as well as UK-based drone designers and manufacturers themselves.

If you own a drone that weighs anything from zero to 150kg when it takes off, you fall under the regulation of the CAA.

The way the CAA regulates drones is through the Air Navigation Order. Anyone who plans on flying a drone, whether commercially or just for fun, needs to understand the Air Navigation Order. To view it online, click here.

There is a huge variety of articles contained in the order that outline what you can and cannot do with a drone, particularly articles 166 and 167.

What these articles spell out is that if you're flying a drone with a camera fitted, you need to be extremely careful how close you get to people, crowds, cars, roads, towns, villages, cities and more.

Key points:

  • The maximum altitude you can fly to is 400ft high.
  • The maximum distance from the operator is 500 metres.
  • Your aircraft must be flown within your line of sight at all times.
  • You cannot fly at night without special permission from the CAA.
  • You must have the permission of the person whose land you take off and land from.
  • When you take off, you must be more than 30 metres away from people, vehicles, buildings or other structures.
  • Your drone must not be flown within 50 metres of any structure, vehicle or person that is not part of your project and fully briefed on what you are doing.
  • You must not fly within 150 metres of any congested area, such as a village, town or city.
  • You must not fly directly over congested areas, people or roads.
  • You must also not fly within 150 metres of a crowd of 1,000 people or more.

Anyone who wants to fly a drone commercially needs to have specific permission from the CAA, at which point some of the restrictions in articles 166 and 167 are slightly altered.

In addition, you also need to think about what you are filming. Are you breaching someone’s privacy? Are you breaking copyright law by flying over the iPro Stadium and filming a football match without permission, for example?

All these things need to be considered before you take off. 

What about insurance?

You should consider buying insurance for your drone. The CAA recommends that the minimum cover that drone operators have is public liability insurance.

If you were to strike a listed building and cause damage, or fly into a stained glass window, or cause a road accident, you would be fully liable for compensation if you didn't have insurance. 

The bottom line is that regardless of what you use your drone for, you must abide by the rules in order to keep people safe.

You must never do anything that might endanger the safety of an aircraft - such as flying close to East Midlands Airport - and you must never fly in a manner that might endanger the safety of any person or property.

Failure to abide by the rules could cause an accident, land you with a huge compensation bill, or even result in criminal proceedings against you.

For a quick guide on the rules and considerations you should take, please view the CAA video below or visit www.caa.co.uk/uas for more information.

Drone flying: A short guide

The below video offers a snapshot of flying a drone.

Do you need a quick answer to a general question? Then we recommend you visit the national Ask The Police web site.