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You now need a licence to fly a drone in the UK or face a fine of £1,000

All operators must pass a mandatory online test proving they know how to legally and safely use drones

Whether you’re already a keen drone user, or are planning to get one for you or a loved one in the Black Friday sales, you must now register your machine, or face paying a fine of £1,000.

 After 30 November, when the law comes into effect, all owners aged 18 or over must have registered and passed a mandatory online test proving they know how to legally and safely use drones in the UK before they can fly them. If you allow a person under 18, or someone else to fly your drone, as the legal owner, you are still responsible for any damage or disruption caused. Registration is now open for existing drone operators.

Although taking the test is free, registration costs £9, and this must be renewed annually if you want to continue to use your drone. The Civil Aviation Authority estimates around 130,000 people will have to pay and register by the end of the month. Once a user has completed the test, they will be given a unique “Operator ID” number that must be fixed, via a label, to the drone. This helps enforcement officers identify who a drone belongs to, likely designed to deter activists or pranksters flying them over airports and disrupting flights.   

It should be noted that not all drones are affected. The ruling only applies to drones that weigh more than 250g – which means the 249g DJI Mavic Mini is exempt, but only just.

Exemptions have also been granted for members of associations that are involved with flying model aircraft or other small, remotely controlled craft such as drones and these associations are The UK Drone Association (Arpas UK), British Model Flying Association, Scottish Aeromodellers’ Association, Large Model Association and FPV UK.

The government first announced plans for the drone register in 2017 and in further legislation is said to be in the works that would give the police more powers, including issuing on-the-spot fines. 

Below, we’ve outlined the other UK laws that you may, or may not, be aware of when flying a drone in the UK.

UK drone flying rules: Basic rules at a glance

The rules for flying small, recreational drones are set out in the Air Navigation Order 2009 (ANO) and include, but are not limited to:

  1. If you’re flying for commercial reasons, you must not fly your drone above an altitude of 400ft (120m)
  2. Your drone must always be under your control, within line of sight and within 500m horizontally
  3. You may not fly anywhere near an airport or airfield, or any other aircraft
  4. Don’t fly over congested areas such as streets, towns and cities
  5. If your drone has a camera, you can’t fly closer than 50m to people, vehicles or buildings, unless you have permission and all people and vehicles you’re flying near are under your control
  6. Drones are out of bounds within 150m of “an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons” according to the ANO
  7. Pilots of drones weighing 250g and more must be registered and display their Operator ID label on the drone

UK drone flying rules: Where can I fly my drone?

For obvious safety reasons, such as drones having the ability to bring down passenger jets or disrupt flights, all airports and airfields are strict no-fly zones for drones. This includes major airports, including Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, but also applies to smaller airfields and military aerodromes as well. 

These exclusion zones are clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps, or you can type in addresses into the website. This website will also show you other restricted areas, which include airspace surrounding nuclear power stations and prisons.

More generally, the law states that drone pilots must also stay at least 50 metres away from people, vehicles and buildings which increases to 150 metres in congested areas and at large gatherings, such as festivals or protests.

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Elsewhere, all London’s Royal Parks have banned the flying of drones due to terrorism fears and other local councils may have imposed similar restrictions so it’s worth checking local bylaws before you fly. 

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UK drone flying rules: Commercial restrictions and convictions

These laws refer to recreational drones. If you intend to fly a drone commercially, for photography that you then go on to sell, you’ll additionally need to obtain “operating permission” from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) beforehand.

To get this licence, you’ll need to “demonstrate the necessary skills and knowledge” of flying a drone for commercial reasons by attending a course and passing an exam and flight test, run by a National Qualified Entity (NQE). Check here for a list of the NQEs operating such courses.

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