Once upon a time in the UK, drone laws allowed pilots to fly without registration if their drone was less than 250 grams. From 31st December 2020, any drone with a camera must be registered with the CAA, even if it weighs less than 250g. Drones under 250g without a camera do not need to be registered.
Drone laws vary in different countries, so it is important to understand the laws in the country that you will be flying. The UK drone laws protect the people and infrastructures of the country. You need two types of licences if you want to fly a drone with a camera in the UK:
Weighing under 250g, DJI Mini 2 drone is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. With the drone laws in the UK, you must register your drone and get the appropriate licence.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulates drones in the United Kingdom. CAA has issued several laws on flying drones for personal and commercial use. However, these laws do not apply if you are flying indoors. Keep on reading for more highlights to help you understand the general rules of the UK drone laws.
You must register your drone if it has a camera and weighs 250g. You are also required to renew this registration every year. There are two requirements you must fulfil:
- Before flying your drone outdoors, you must pass a theory test and acquire a Flyer ID.
- You need to apply for an operator ID if you are responsible for the drone.
It is necessary to obtain the required IDs before flying a drone outdoors. Without the essential IDs, you could receive a fine from the authorities; and go to prison in the worst-case scenario.
The theory test for flyer ID is free. Kids under the age of 13 must pass the test, but the parent or guardian must be present. Only 18 years+ can apply for an operator ID. An operator is a person who owns the drone and is responsible for making sure that only flyer ID holders fly their drone. So, if you have a drone and you are younger than 18, you must ask your parent or a guardian to apply for an operator ID on your behalf.
The new rules posed by the CAA are divided into three categories: open, specific, and certified. See below for more details.
- The open category allows you to fly when the flight is low-risk—for example, flying a low-weight drone or operating in the countryside.
- The specific category focuses on high-risk drone flights, such as flying over a residential area. In this scenario, you need to acquire permission from the Civil Aviation Authority.
- The Certified category is for heavier drones carrying packages and parcels.
Flying Drones in the open category
Governance for the people flying a drone less than 25kg is under the open category. Note that these rules also apply when you are flying at night. General rules for this category are:
- Your drone must be in your clear visual line of sight
- Never fly above 120m
- Be careful of airspace restrictions unless you have secured the correct permissions
Depending on your drone's weight and size, you will also need to be aware of three sub-categories (A1, A2, and A3).
- Most lightweight drones, such as the DJI Mavic Mini 2, will fall under the A1 category because they weigh less than 250g. If your drone is 250g or less, you can fly over people.
- If your drone falls under the A2 category, you must pass a theory test to establish that you know the practicalities of flying a drone and do not pose any danger to people around you. You must keep at least 30m of distance from people while flying your drone.
- The A3 category requires you to keep at least 150 metres of horizontal distance from public buildings and parks and at least 50 metres away from people.
If you want to fly commercially, meaning you will use your drone to generate some form of income; you need to take the PfCO CAA (Permission for Commercial Operations) exam. Make sure to familiarise yourself with the Drone Code and the Drone Registration Scheme before you fly a drone in the UK.
Drone classification (New Laws)
The CAA will require drones to meet a certain product standard from 1st January 2023 onwards. Manufacturers will have to ensure that their drones are classed appropriately and adhere to the new UK drone laws. The drone's weight, size, and capability will determine its class; from C0 to C4. This classification will determine where and how you can fly your drone.
If you have a drone marked C0 or C1, you can operate it in the open sub-category A1. Drones with a marking C2 can fly in both A2 and A3 of the open sub-categories. Drones marked C4 are only permitted to fly in the A3 open sub-category.
According to the CAA's website, after 1st January 2023, "you can continue to fly a 'legacy' unmarked drone in the following categories":
- Drones under 250g can continue under the A1 sub-category.
- Drone pilots must only fly all other drones in the A3 sub-category.
First Person View (FPV)
If you are flying FPV [First Person View] drones, you must have another person by your side [an observer] who can guide you to avoid collisions. However, the drone pilot is still responsible for following the safety of the flight.
A Remote ID makes it easy for aviation authorities to identify details about a drone. Think of it as the driver's licence plate for your drone. Most manufacturers ensure that their drones come with a Remote ID in preparation for the new drone laws. When the regulations come into force, the built-in Remote ID on your drone will be required to function in real-time, with a direct broadcast of the following:
- Accurate geographical location and height from the take-off point
- The geographical location of the take-off points and the pilot's location
- Speed of the drone
- The operator registration number
- ANSI/CTA-2063 serial number
The remote ID will ideally prevent users from modifying most of the points above.
The CAA strictly advises you to be mindful of the privacy of others while operating your drone. So adhere to all the regulations issued by CAA for flying drones in the UK and prove yourself a good citizen!
Please note that we summarised this article to help you understand UK drone laws quickly. Please refer to Civil Aviation Authority's website for the entire regulation. Still in doubt? Click here for some of the key drone rules.