Drone for Surveying - Drone Site Surveys - Liverpool - UK

Drone Laws UK 2021

On this page, we will outline the UK laws for flying drones commercially or just for fun. There are multiple stakeholders involved in the setting of the laws, but ultimately it is the Civil Aviation Authority who oversee drone regulations across the UK. All drones in the UK must be registered by law if they weigh between 250g and 20kg, and you can do that on the CAA website. You can download the most up to date drone code at Drone Safe There is some great information on the linked pages within this section, so we suggest you check them out. Reading these and the associated relevant links within will make sure that you stay compliant with the laws around flying drones if you follow the advice.

If you have a drone for recreational flying and are worried you may break the law without realising it, fear not, as long as you follow some simple rules you can fly safely, securely and legally. Read our page dedicated to recreational drone flying, a must-read especially if your UAV has a camera.



Drone Surveyors

Check for the latest Drone Law Updates Here

Changes to UK Drone Laws and the EASA

UK Drone Regulations changed on December 31, 2020, to align with those of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in order to allow free circulation of drones with Europe.

The new rules remove the requirements of PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) and whether your operation is commercial/non-commercial, focussing solely on the type of drone and where you intend to fly it.

This leads to some major changes from current regulations and potentially offers great opportunities to carry out missions which would have been hugely restricted previously.

In some cases, for example, you will be able to fly much closer to people/buildings and even fly over people which open up many more possibilities for drone pilots.

An Operational Authorisation has replaced the PfCO and there are now 3 categories of operations providing a framework related to the level of risk involved in the flight.

These categories are Open, Specific and Certified,

To summarise these categories:

Open Category

Low-risk operations will not require any authorisation, but will be subject to strict operational limitations.

The Open Category is made up of 3 subcategories, determined by the type of flying you are intending to carry out and the drone you are using:

A1 – Flying “Over” People

A2 – Flying “Close to” People

A3 – Flying “Far from” People

Type of Drone

From 1 January 2023 all new drones will be required to meet a set of product standards and will be classified from C0 to C4.

These classes will be based on the weight and capability of the drone, and will determine how and where you can fly.

  • C0 or C1 drones are authorised to be flown the A1 sub category (as well as A2 and A3)
  • C2 drones are only authorised to be flown in the A2 or A3 sub category
  • C3 and C4 drones are only authorised to be flown in the A3 sub category  

Until January 2023 if your drone doesn’t have a class marking, you may fly it in the following categories:

  • Drones under 250g are authorised to be flown in the sub category A1 (as well as A2 and A3)
  • Drones less than 2kg are authorised to be flown in the sub category A2 and A3, however you are required to maintain a 50 meters distance from people and are required to pass the A2 theory exam (A2 Certificate of Competency or ‘A2 CofC’).
  • Drones of MOTM (Maximum Take Off Mass) of 2kg or greater are only authorised to be flown in the A3 subcategory.

After 1 January 2023,  ‘legacy’ unmarked drones are still authorised to fly in the following categories:

  • Privately built drones with a MTOM (Maximum Take Off Mass) of 250g are still authorised to be flown in the sub category A1.
  • All other drones are only authorised to be used in the sub category A3

The full requirements for flying in the Open category are shown in the CAA factsheet  CAP2012.

Specific Category

For medium-risk operations, operators will have to require an authorisation from the national aviation authority on the basis of a standardised risk assessment or a specific scenario. Pilots will require a GVC (General VLOS Certificate) to apply for operational authorisation (See Below for GVC details)

Certified Category

In the case of high-risk operations, classical aviation rules will apply. To ensure operational safety flights falling under the Certified category with require certification of the UAS, licensing of the pilot and to be carried out by an approved operator.

While these changes may cause some initial confusion for pilots used to the previous regulations, it means that drone pilots will be able to fly commercially with fewer restrictions based on the risk of the operation where the flights are of lower risk.

Updates for 2021

From 31st December 2020 the following information is an important addition to the UK Drone Laws.

What is a General VLOS Certificate (GVC)?

The General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC) replaces the PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) in the UK from 31st December 2020. When requiring Operational Authorisation from the CAA, you will be required to hold a GVC, along with submission of your Operations Manual and proof of suitable insurance

What if I already have a PfCO?

As long as your PfCO remains valid during the transition period of 31st December 2020 it will stay valid until it’s renewal date, allowing you to continue your flying with the same permissions under which you currently operate. At the point of renewal, your application will be for Operational Authorisation and if there has been no break in your PfCO since 31st December 2020 you will not require any additional pilot training. The application will be similar to applying for your PfCO renewal, requiring Operations Manual and proof of pilot competency.

Survey Drones


No Matter What Size Drone You Are Flying EVERYBODY Must Comply with these Drone Laws:

The Drone Code – The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) published The Drone and Model Aircraft Code in October 2019, which is clear guidance for flying drones and model aircraft of 20kg or less in the UK.

• Always keep your drone or model aircraft in direct sight
• Never fly more than 400ft (120m) above the surface and stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields.
• Never fly closer than 50m to people. Even when your drone is more than 50m away from people it is safer to avoid directly overflying them
• Never fly closer than 50m to buildings, cars, trains or boats
• Never fly closer than 150m to a crowd of 1,000 people or more. Never fly directly over a crowd
• Never fly closer than 150m to built-up areas. Never fly directly over a built-up area
Never fly in an airport’s flight restriction zone
• It is illegal to fly a drone or model aircraft between 250g-20kg that does not show a valid operator ID.



Check out the Drone Code Here


IF YOUR DRONE IS OVER 250g You Must Also Comply with these Drone Laws:

Drone Registration – Since 30th November, all persons operating a UAV in the UK weighing between 250g and 20kg need to do these 2 things in order to fly legally.

1) The person responsible for the UAV must register as an operator to get an operator ID. There is a £9 fee for this and you must be 18 or over to register for an Operator ID.

2) Any person intending to fly a drone (even if it’s not yours) must pass an online theory test and get a Flyer ID.

Here is a link to the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service

All of your drones must be labelled with your Operator ID Number (not your Flyer ID) and the label must be:

• visible from the outside, or within a compartment that can easily be accessed without using a tool
• clear and in block capitals taller than 3mm
• secure and safe from damage
• on the main body of the aircraft

For drones below 250g in weight, like the DJI Mavic Mini which conveniently weighs 249g and at the moment of writing this is exempt from registration with the CAA, all small drones (under 250g) still need to comply fully with the drone code.

Drones for surveying and fun

Register Your Drone with the CAA Here

Drone Surveyors UK

If you intend to use your Drone for Commercial Purposes

All UAV Operators Must Comply with these requirements:

PfCO – Permission for Commercial Operations – any drone pilot wanting to use their drone for commercial purposes (an example would be a roof survey) must apply to the CAA for a PfCO. This permission is required if you will be receiving any potential gain from using your footage, ie. using the images on your website, allowing others to use your images for commercial purposes etc. The gain does not have to be immediate financial compensation in order to qualify as a commercial purpose.

The process of applying for a PfCO includes a short course and written text followed by a practical flight test. Upon completion of the tests, you can then apply for your PfCO with the CAA by submitting your Operations Manual along with your application.

Standard Permission – This enables a person to conduct commercial operations with a small unmanned aircraft (drone) and also permits operations within a congested area. Potential operators are required to provide evidence of pilot competence and an Operations Manual which details how the flights will be conducted.
Non-Standard Permission – An exemption is required from the CAA if you are intending to carry out a flight which is outside of the CAA standard permissions or you require to work outside of the demands of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2016. All flight operations in which there is a greater operating risk than is covered under the standard permissions. These permissions are in addition to the requirements for a Standard Permission, and applicants are expected to prepare and submit an Operating Safety Case (OSC) to the CAA.


Guidance on CAA Permissions

Once you have all of the above requirements in place, Each Individual Flight requires its Own Permissions:

Landowner – you must have the permission of the landowner in order to take – off and land on their property.
Local Authority – individual authorities often have specific requirements in order to carry out a flight within their jurisdiction. There may also be local bylaws which regulate your flight in addition to the Drone Code so always check with the local authority to ensure you are abiding by their requirements.
Police – always inform the local police in advance of the location, date and time of your flight. If any additional information is needed they will let you know and issue you with a Log Number for your records.
CAA – the Civil Aviation Authority oversee and regulate UK civil aviation. If your flight can be carried out under the permissions in your PfCO and conforming with your Operations Manual then there is no need to contact them for general flying. If different permissions are required (ie. You need to reduce the distance to buildings etc) then you may need to apply to them for an Operational Safety Case (OSC) which will then require that you provide evidence that you will be able to carry out the flight without compromising safety.
Rail Network – if your flight brings your drone in close proximity to the railway you will need to inform Network Rail of your intended flight path. Flights within 50m of the railway are not permitted and NR has a list of companies who are permitted to carry out this work, with whom they will put you in touch if required.
Local ATC – you must not fly your drone in the vicinity of an airport. If your flight plan takes you within the airspace controlled by the airport you should contact the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and request permission to fly. Providing that your flight is deemed safe and any mitigation is put in place then it may still be possible to carry out your flight.
Nuclear Facilities – Nuclear Facilities will be surrounded by a Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ) and it is illegal to fly in this space without permission. You will be required to gain permission from an authorised person at the Facility and pass this to the CAA who will grant you temporary permission to carry out the flight.
Prisons, Military Bases, Sport Stadiums etc.– many sites are surrounded by restriction zones which restrict flights in that airspace. It is always recommended to check the airspace around the site you are planning to fly as soon as possible in your planning process in order to ensure you have the time to gain all the permissions which may be required.
Controlled airspace – Class G Airspace is classified as “uncontrolled”, all other airspace is considered “Controlled” ie. Under the control of the direction of Air Traffic Control.

According to the CAA “any authority or regulatory body should be able to identify the specific laws, regulations or bye-laws that empower it to regulate the use of UAS, or more usually, the land from which they are operated, much as the CAA has set out the regulations that it applies”

Here are a variety of links to tools to use in order to help determine the requirements of your flight, click on the logos below for more information.


No Fly Drones Logo and Link
Airmap Logo and link
altitude angel logo and link

Drone Safety Map for Flight Planning