The use of drones – both for commercial and recreational purposes – has grown considerably in the UK over the last few years. With the increasing number of drones taking to the air, it is critical that all drone users are well aware of their responsibilities when it comes to keeping themselves, other airspace users and members of the public safe at all times.
The rules and regulations governing the use of drones in the UK changed on 31st December 2020 to mirror those across all EU member states as well as Norway and Iceland.
The new drone legislation was originally due to come into force last summer but was delayed until the end of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of the new laws is to standardise the use of drones across different countries in Europe and end the confusion and ambiguity surrounding ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’ drone.
Previously, drones being flown purely for recreational purposes did not require the pilot to be tested and certified in the same way a commercial drone pilot was. However, the definitions relating to ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’ drone use were notoriously ambiguous.
The new rules remove the distinction between commercial and recreational drone use, which is expected to result in an increase in drone users. The rules also make it clear where drones can be flow, while also making the tracing of drone owners more streamlined.
What are the new drone rules?
Under the new rules, even small drones are required to be registered with the relevant authority – which in the UK is Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The CAA have listed all of the new rules in detail here: https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/drone-code
The rules cover:
- What you need to fly legally – ID and registration requirements
- General responsibilities of drone pilots – flying safely and responsibly
- Where you can fly – legal height limits and distances from people, buildings, roads etc.
- Privacy rules – for drones fitted with an on-board camera
The new rules also specify three new risk categories for drones: high, medium and low.
- Low-risk or ‘open-category’ drones will not require any authorisation but will be subject to strict operational limitations
- Medium-risk or ‘specific-category’ drones will have to have authorisation from the national aviation authority based on a risk assessment
- High-risk or ‘certified-category drones will need to follow aviation rules, and this will apply to future drone flights with passengers
The low-risk category of drone, which accounts for the majority of hobbyists and recreational users, will be managed through the CE mark, which is a process for products sold in Europe to ensure they meet health, safety and environmental standards.
However, drones within this category will also have additional rules about where they can be flown:
- A1 – drones weighing less than 250g (0.55lb) can be flown over people
- A2 – drones weighing more than 250g but less than 2kg must be flown at least 50m (164ft) away from people
- A3 – drones weighing more than 2kg must be flown well away from people
UK drone pilots wanting to fly any drone weighing more than 250g within 150m of people are still required to pass the CAA’s official drone theory test and to have an official flyer ID.
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