Drone for Surveying - Drone Site Surveys - Liverpool - UK

Drone Laws UK 2021 (Updated May 2021)

As you are likely to know if you have even a passing interest in all things drones, the UK regulations for drone flying changed on 31st December 2020. While the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are responsible for UK air regulation, the new laws align the UK with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)  with the idea of creating a free circulation of drones with Europe (there are other potential issues with working commercially in Europe since 31st December but that’s for another page!)

The fundamental change in emphasis within the new regulations is that the purpose of your drone flight is no longer a factor in how the regulations affect you. The distinction between “commercial” and leisure flying has been removed and the emphasis of the new regulations is on the potential risk of the flight, by focussing on the size, weight and speed of the drone and therefore it’s potential to cause harm.

Whether you are flying commercially or just for fun, the rules you should be following and any authorisations you may require will be determined by the drone itself. 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.

We will be focussing on the regulations for drones between 250g and 25kg, if your drone weighs less than 250g (eg. Mavic Mini) then please read our post about the rules for these

Drone Surveyors




Read the Law on Drones Under 250g Here

Drone Registration

 All persons operating a UAV in the UK weighing between 250g and 25kg need to do these 2 things in order to fly legally (see under 250g drones post for info regarding smaller drones)

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. If your child intends to fly a drone which requires an Operator ID then they must had someone over 18 apply 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. Anyone under the age of 13 is still required to get a Flyer ID but must have someone over 18 with them to take the test.

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

You can download the most up to date drone code at Drone Safe 




Check Out the Latest Drone Code Here

Changes to UK Drone Laws and the EASA

As discussed above, the 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. To emphasise the new focus away from commercial or leisure flying the Permission for Commercial Operations) has been replaced by an Operation Authorisation (OA) which still requires a CAA application and submission on an Operations Manual in order to demonstrate how your drone operations will be carried out safely and with due regard to legislation. 

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

A1 flights can only be conducted with drones with a MTOM of less than 250g. Flight overhead people (but not open-air assemblies) is allowed.

Drones with a MTOM of 500g or less may be flown in A1 under ‘Transitional’ rules, but may not be deliberately flown overhead people and the pilot must hold an A2 CofC.

A2
Flying “close to”people

Operations in subcategory A2 can only be conducted with C2 Class drone or a ‘legacy’ drone with a MTOM under 2kg. Remote Pilots must hold an A2 Certificate of Competency.

With a C2 drone flight may be within 30m of uninvolved people and 5m in slow flight mode. Legacy drones may fly within 50m of uninvolved people.

A3
Flying “far from”people

This category covers the more general types of unmanned aircraft operations, including model aircraft with a MTOM up to 25kg.

The intent is that the unmanned aircraft will only be flown in areas that are clear of uninvolved persons and will not be flown in areas that are used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.

Drone Classifications Change Again in 2023

Drone Classifications

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

Very small unmanned aircraft, including toys, that:

  • are less than 250g maximum take-off mass
  • have a maximum speed of 19m/s (approx. 42.5 mph)
  • are unable to be flown more than 120m (400ft) from the controlling device

C1

Are either less than 900g maximum take-off mass, or are made and perform in a way that if they collide with a human head, the energy transmitted will be less than 80 Joules

  • have a maximum speed of 19m/s (approx. 42.5 mph)
  • designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people

The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits, height limits and requirements for remote identification and geoawareness systems.

C2

Less than 4kg maximum take-off mass

  • Designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people
  • Equipped with a low-speed mode’ which limits the maximum speed to 3m/s (approx. 6.7 mph) when selected by the remote pilot

The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits (but different from C1), height limits and requirements for remote identification and geoawareness systems, plus additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight.

C3

Drones that possess automatic control modes (such as found in typical multicopter ‘drones’) which are less than 25kg maximum take-off mass

The standards also cover other aspects covering height limits and requirements for remote identification and geoawareness systems. There are also additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight, but there is no specified noise limit (because the aircraft is intended to be flown ‘far from people’).

C4

Drones that Unmanned aircraft that do not possess any automation, other than for basic flight stabilisation (and so are more representative of a ‘traditional’ model aircraft) which are less than 25kg maximum take-off mass

The standards also cover other aspects covering height limits and requirements for remote identification and geoawareness systems. There are also additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight, but there is no specified noise limit (because the aircraft is intended to be flown ‘far from people’).

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.

Full Requirements for Flying in the Open Category

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 (PDRA – Pre-Defined Risk Assessment) or a specific scenario (Standard Scenario) STS. 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.

Make Sure Your Individual Flight Has The Correct 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 within the requirements of the Open category or within the remit of your Operational Authorisation 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

Indoor Drone Flying

If you are flying your drone indoors without any possibility of the drone escaping outdoors into general aviation then you are not required to follow these regulations. You are however, responsible for Health and Safety regarding your drone flight.

Drone Safety Map for Flight Planning

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