UK Drone Laws 2018: Everything you need to know
Drones have gone from niche geek gadget to High Street mainstay over the last couple of years but, as they’ve grown more popular, we’ve also seen year-on-year increases in potentially dangerous incidents involving them. To ensure the safety of both drone users and the general public, UK drone laws keep having to evolve, but the constant changes make it difficult to know what you can and can’t do with the flying bots.
The UK government recently introduced on-the-spot fines for any drone users caught breaching the rules, and also proposed tighter new measures that may result in owners of drones over a certain weight being required to register their devices. There are also plans to bring in tests for drone operators, and even strict age restrictions.
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 the future. Before you fire up your shiny new plaything, catch up with all the new UK drone laws so you can go forth and fly with confidence. And if you’re looking to pick up a shiny new flying bot, be sure to check out our roundup of the best drones.
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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.
As of 30 July, you can no longer fly your drone above 400 feet 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 a fine of up to £2500 or up to five years in prison.
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.
“Drones present exciting benefits to our society and our economy, but with a small group of people choosing to use them for harm there are challenges we must overcome if we are to prevent them hindering the potential of this technology,” said Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg.
“That’s why we’ve already introduced safety measures like a height limit, and rules around airports, and … we are consulting on how we go further, including extra police powers and a minimum age requirement.”
According to the DfT, which says a draft Drones Bill will be published later this year, 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.
UK Drone Laws: What’s coming next?
On July 26, the government launched a public consultation on a whole new batch of proposals that “will reinforce the importance of complying with drone safety rules”. These include:
- Whether the 1km flight restriction around protected aerodromes is sufficient
- Police issuing fixed penalty notices to people flouting drone laws
- Using new counter-drone technology to protect public events and critical national infrastructure, and prevent contraband from reaching prisons
- Introducing a minimum age requirement of 18 to be a small drone operator
- Proposals for regulating and mandating the use of apps on which drone users would file flight plans ahead of take-off
The consultation closed on September 17, and the outcome will be revealed soon. Read on for more details about the proposed measures.
As well as the points listed above, the consultation revealed that the government is looking at introducing fixed penalty notices ranging from £100-£300 for users who commit the following offences:
- Not producing registration documentation, and/or proof of registration for drones between 250g and up to and including 20kg, at the request of a police constable
- Not producing evidence that a flight plan was submitted before flying, or that an appropriate Flight Information and Notification System (FINS (more on this below)) is being used, should the decision be taken to mandate the use of FINS
- Not producing evidence of any other relevant permissions required by legislation, for example if you are a commercial drone operator or when flying a drone 20kg and above
- Not complying with a police officer when instructed to land a drone
- Flying a drone without a valid acknowledgement of competency, or failure to provide evidence of meeting this competency requirement when requested
- Other offences under the Air Navigation Order 2016, such as flying a small drone with a camera or other data collection device within 50m of people, vehicles or buildings
As mentioned above, it’s possible that drone users will one day be required to use a FINS − which would likely take the form of an app − to notify authorities and other drone users that they’re going to fly a UAV at a particular location at a given time ahead of time. Users may also have to pay for FINS access.
“The aim of this proposed policy is to increase drone user accountability, to ensure a flight can be made safely, without compromising the security or privacy of others. The real-time data and records made by a FINS could also be useful for enforcement,” the consultation says.
It reveals that the government is also looking into giving police officers new powers in relation to the misuse of drones. One of these is the extension of stop and search to cover “the possession of drones in certain circumstances”. Police constables could also gain the ability to seize and retain a drone, and access any information stored electronically on it, if they “reasonably suspect” it has been involved in an offence.
Authorities are questioning what the minimal acceptable vertical separation between a drone and an aircraft should be too, and whether or not areas where drones are likely to be used, such as public parks, that happen to be near aerodromes, should be exempt from the flight restriction.
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!
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