Do you need a license to fly a drone? 2017’s new UK drone laws explained

UK Drone Laws: Everything you need to know

Our  guide tells you all there is know about where you can and can’t fly a drone in the UK, as well as shedding light on new requirements to register certain drones in the UK.

Over the last couple of years, drones have gone from niche geek gadget to High Street mainstay, and if you’re reading this, we suspect you were the lucky recipient of a shiny new flying bot or two last Christmas.

Something like Propel’s Star Wars Battle Drones, or the flawless DJI Mavic Pro, perhaps?

Before you fire up your new device, though, there are some rules and regulations you need to be aware of. The UK government has just announced measures that will require owners of drones over a certain weight to register their devices, as well as plans to bring in a test for new owners.

We’ve broken down the rules so you can go forth and fly your drone with confidence. Here’s all you need to know:

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New UK Drone Laws 2017: The latest news

Significant changes to UK drone law have been announced by the Department of Transport. A statement issued by the department details new measures that require owners of certain drones to register the devices with the government.

The new rules are said to have been designed to “improve accountability and encourage owners to act responsibly,” and may result in users being able to register drones online or through apps.

Here are the outcomes of the recently concluded consultation on the ‘Benefits of drones to the UK economy’:

  • The government will implement a registration scheme and mandatory competency tests for all users of drones weighing 250 grams and above.
  • Work to create an authoritative source of UK airspace data will be “brought forward”. This source will “facilitate the implementation of geo-fencing and build greater awareness of airspace restrictions amongst drone users.”
  • The government will also explore further measures such as increasing penalties, creating new offences and reviewing the powers available to law enforcement agencies to enforce relevant law

To put the registration rule into perspective, 250g is about the weight of half an average pack of dry supermarket pasta, so you’d need to register pretty much any half-decent drone. It’s also quite the tumble from the current 20kg threshold.

Meanwhile, the new competency tests will require owners to prove they understand UK safety, security, and privacy regulations.

Finally, the government will be pushing for work on geofencing technology to be brought forward. The tech is built into the drones themselves and uses GPS coordinates to stop the devices from entering specific zones, such as prison or airport airspace.

That’s the current state of play, and while there’s no concrete date for when the new rules will take effect, we expect more in the future, so stay tuned

Where can and can’t I fly my drone in the UK?

Seen some of that snazzy airborne footage on YouTube? Well, it’s probably illegal, as according to UK laws regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority, consumer drones (classed as those that weigh under 20kg) must be flown no higher than 120 metres, and kept at least 50 metres away from people and private property, and 150 metres from “crowds and built up areas.”

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Star Wars Propel Battle Drones

You’re also required to keep your drone in your line of sight at all times, and be aware of designated ‘no fly zones’, which most notably include airports and prisons.

In addition, you need to register with the CAA if you’re planning to use your drone for ‘commercial purposes’ – this may sound like it doesn’t apply to you, but it extends to things like monetising your YouTube channel or personal blog, however meagrely.

In other words, flying your new drone isn’t quite as straightforward as you think, especially if you live in an urban area. You can learn more over on the CAA-backed Drone Safe website, where the handy Drone Assist app is also available. If you’re looking for more information on filming while using a drone, check out The Video Mode’s guide.

We’ll update this page with all the latest developments in the coming months, so make sure to check back. In the meantime, we wish you many a safe and fun flight with your new drone.