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A Lowdown On The Latest UK Drone Regulations

You’ll no doubt be aware that, as of March 13, it’s illegal to fly a drone within 5km of an airport. However, this is just one of many regulations which drone users need to be aware of. We spoke to Carys Kaiser, also known as The Drone Lass, to get her lowdown on the latest UK drone regulations and what they mean for both recreational and professional flyers.

Carys has been a professional drone pilot for over 4 years and has appeared on BBC News, Good Morning Britain and in the Guardian as a drone spokesperson. She has also shot, produced and directed for some of the biggest names in television.

uk drone regulations

You can’t have failed to have noticed that drones have been in the news a lot recently and the closure of Gatwick in December 2018 has brought them into sharp focus.

After extensive lobbying by a number of industry bodies in the aviation industry, laws for drones have been tightened further.

But what do the latest UK drone regulations mean for the recreational flyer and those who are operating as a professional with permissions from the CAA – PFCO (permission for commercial operation)?

As of 13th March 2019, it’s illegal to fly any drone inside the new restricted areas at anytime without permission from Air Traffic Control (ATC). If you fly your drone and it’s found to have endangered an aircraft, you could go to prison for up to 5 years and / or face a fine of £2,500.

Despite these new regulations, most of the drone code stays the same. The major change for drone pilots is that the restriction around airports has increased from 1km to 5km, or 2.5 nautical miles.

Read on as I explain how you can stay safe and legal when flying your drone. First of all, let’s remind ourselves of the drone code.

 

The drone code explained

A full version of the drone code is available here and NATS have kindly given me their permission to reproduce the images from the code in this blog post.

Let’s look at the drone code in more detail…

1. Always keep your drone in line of sight – This means you can see the drone and where it is at all times.

uk drone regulations

2. Don’t fly your drone over 400ft (120m) – With most consumer drones, you can set the height limit in the app or controller you use. This will help your peace of mind that you’ve not exceeded the legal flight height. If you’re flying an older drone, keep an eye on the distance on the information screen.

uk drone regulations

3. Every time you fly your drone, you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s a good idea to watch manufacturer’s videos on how to set up the drone correctly. There are a whole host of videos on YouTube to help you set up and fly as the manufacturer suggests, as they’ve spent a long time testing the drone’s air worthiness.

uk drone regulations

4. Keep the right distance from people and property, as this image suggests

uk drone regulations

5. Remember you’re responsible for every flight

uk drone regulations

6. Stay well away from airports and airfields when flying a drone.

uk drone regulations

Like the illustration above, the flight restriction zone (FRZ) can be a bit more complex than just a big circled area around the airport or airfield. Flight paths where the planes come into land are also included in the no-fly zones, because now the no-fly zone extends 5 km to the end of the runway and is 1km wide. If an airport has multiple runways, the restricted fly zone extends beyond the circle.

Read on as I explain the no-fly zone in more detail and give you some hints and tips on how to stay safe and compliant with the law.

 

My top tips for flying your drone

My first tip would be to accept any manufactures’ updates on location files. If you’re flying a DJI drone (as of March 2019, DJI has around 80% market share), you’re flying a drone with geofencing that recognises the areas where you can’t fly. Therefore, your drone should not take off if you find yourself in a no-fly zone.

DJI has upgraded its fly safe database, meaning the new areas should be part of the geofencing. Where you may come unstuck is where the geofencing and no-fly zones don’t correspond, or if you fly a non-DJI drone.

The law states you cannot fly ANY drone (not even small toy drones) near airports or airfields unless you have specified permission which can be gained if you’re a PFCO holder.

My other tips would be…

  1. Check where you’re going to fly on this interactive map https://dronesafe.uk/restrictions/
  2. Download the Drone Assist App developed by NATS – this will help you identify areas of concern.
  3. Use the no-fly zone database. This is particularly useful if you’re flying a DJI drone. https://www.dji.com/uk/flysafe/geo-map

If you’re not flying a DJI drone, refer to the no-fly zone database so you can see the zones you should approach with caution. For example, the areas just outside airport zones.

Where you could potentially come unstuck is if the geofencing or Drone Assist App data is inaccurate – and both the manufacturer and app provider say they’re not responsible for inaccuracies. Consider that a normal disclaimer.

Disclaimer aside, we should trust the information we can see. If you know of an airfield near you that is not on the app or geofencing, make sure you don’t fly without permission.

It will be no defence in a court of law that you were flying your drone in a small airfield in a secluded area, which is used once or twice a month. If you’re in any doubt over whether or not you have permission to fly in a particular area, I would advise that you seek permission from the airfield or aerodrome.

My suggestion is to use a combination of all three information sources above to check where you can fly. You can also use traditional maps to check distances from airports and airfields.

 

What do the UK drone regulations mean for drone pilots with PFCO?

You’ll have to make arrangements with the ATC by submitting your flight plans to them well in advance. You also need to obtain an unlock code if you’re flying a DJI drone.

One thing to note is that this process takes up to 21 days before you want to fly (even though DJI have stated five working days) and so you need to allow for this when arranging your professional engagements.

There are also other considerations for instructions for flying at different ATC’s across the country.

 

Common considerations for drone users

Manchester ATC has set a restrictive distance of 15 nautical miles for drones weighing 7 – 20KG surrounding the airport, and your plans and requests need submitting well ahead of commercial drone operations. You should allow for 21 days or more in this scenario.

Smaller drones in the sub-7kg category are subject to the 5km, or 2.5 nautical miles exclusion. Permission needs to be requested within the no-fly zone, but not in the further 15 nautical miles – this is just for the larger drones.

Stick to your operations manual or OSC (operating safety case). As before, you will need to submit all information and, if flying a DJI drone, await an unlock code.

If you’re concerned about this, plan well in advance and be prepared to ask for advice from the ATZ (Air Traffic Zone) from the ATC concerned. You can also visit http://www.nats.aero/nsf/  for non-standard flight submissions.

You need to investigate fully the areas where you may end up flying, as different ATCs have different restrictions.

Please seek additional advice from NATS, your training provider or ARPAS. The advice from the CAA is to read CAP 1763 and update your Ops manual ahead of renewal.

For those of you flying professionally, there are still opportunities for your business to flourish. It’s just about managing your client’s expectations that a job may take longer to plan, due to the restrictions in place.

 

What other UK drone regulations do I need to be aware of?

From 30th November 2019, it will be a legal requirement for anyone who owns a drone weighing 250 grams or more to register their drone with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and complete an online competency test. They could face fines up to £1,000 if they fail to do this.

The Government is also finalising a Draft Drones Bill which will give the police the power to tackle illegal drone use. Under the terms of this bill, police officers can land drones and require users to produce the proper documentation. They will also have the power to search premises and seize drones — including electronic data stored within the device — where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.

Failure to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing your registration to operate a drone, can result in fines of up to £100.

 

About Carys

Carys is a camera operator and Shooting producer director for TV, flying drones for TV companies BBC, ITV, Channel 5 and Independent Production companies. She has appeared on BBC 5 Live, BBC News channels, Good Morning Britain and in the Guardian as a drone spokesperson. She is also a regular on BBC Radio Derby talking all things drones.

Carys advises media companies about drones and also runs training courses on how to create stunning drone imagery. She is a public speaker and educator and can often be found flying drones in the Peak District. Carys is also a committee member for ARPAS (The UK Drone Association).

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