UK Drone Laws 2018: 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 requirements to register certain drones in the UK and casting an eye forward to future safety tests that drone enthusiasts will be required to take.
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 flying device, though, there are some rules and regulations you need to be aware of. The UK government recently 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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UK Drone Laws: The latest news
Significant updates to UK drone laws have been announced by the Department of Transport (DfT), and there are quite a lot of changes to be aware of. If you wish to avoid fines and potential prison sentences, anyway.
From 30 July, you won’t be able to fly your drone above 400 feet and or within a kilometre of airport boundaries. Anyone who flouts the rules could be charged with “recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft”, and face an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
Furthermore, from 30 November 2019, all owners drones that weigh at least 250g will have to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. Anyone who fails to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000.
The CAA and airports will have the power to make exceptions to these restrictions in “specific circumstances”, the DfT says.
“We are seeing fast growth in the numbers of drones being used, both commercially and for fun,” said Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg. “Whilst we want this industry to innovate and grow, we need to protect planes, helicopters and their passengers from the increasing numbers of drones in our skies. These new laws will help ensure drones are used safely and responsibly.”
According to the DfT, which has added that a draft Drones Bill will be published this summer, there has been a year-on-year increase in drone incidents with aircraft, with 71 recorded in 2016 and 89 in 2017.
It’s hoped that the new rules will protect helicopters and planes. The DfT says that drone operators will also eventually have to use apps that ensure they always have access to safety guidance, though it isn’t yet clear how it plans to enforce this rule.
We’ve also known for some time that the government is 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.
Where can and can’t I fly my drone in the UK right now?
Seen some snazzy airborne footage on YouTube? Well, it might have been captured illegally 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 400 feet (120 metres), and be kept at least 50 metres away from people and private property, and 150 metres from congested areas and organised open-air assemblies of more than 1,000 people.
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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 meagerly.
According to the DfT, the number of active commercial licences increased from 2,500 to 3,800 in 2017, a year on year growth of 52%.
In other words, flying your new drone isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think, especially if you live in an urban area or near an airport.
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 wish you many a safe and fun flight!