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Unmanned Aircraft Systems - Drones

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones) are becoming more common ,and with advances in technology and decrease in cost, are ever increasing in popularity.

Whilst flying a drone, it is important that they are not posing a risk to any other aircraft or people.

Drones must be flown safely and legally, within the limits of the operating category they are flying in. This includes Operator Registration, Pilot Competency & maintaining separation distances from members of the public & built-up areas as required. Conditions and limitations for each flying category are different, and much will depend on the weight of the drone, and where and how it will be flown.

It is always the pilot’s responsibility to ensure the drone is being flown safely and within the law.

What is a drone?

A drone is the common name used for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). These small aircraft can be flown remotely by various types of controls, or autonomously using computer software. They can be traditional fixed wing (aeroplane), or more commonly vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), with single or multi rotary blades, of various sizes. The majority of drones flown outdoors now come with camera technology which is stored on an on-board SD card, or transmitted to a smart device.

Who can own / fly a drone?

From October 2019 registration has been required by any person who controls or flies a drone outdoors. On 31st December 2020 there were updates in the Air Navigation Order 2016, which included updates for age restrictions and registration of drone operators (owners) and drone pilots.

If your drone has a camera (unless it is a toy) then you need to register as an operator with the CAA. You need to renew this registration every year and display the registration number on any drone you own.

Anyone flying a drone 250g or more, needs to pass a test and receive a flyer ID from the CAA (every 5 years). Details can be found at www.Register-drones.caa.co.uk 

Common examples of drones which now require the owner to register are Ryze Tello, DJI Mavic Mini, many Eachine drones and any drone (not toy) fitted with a camera.

There is no minimum age for flying a drone, however to register as an operator you must be 18 years old, therefore if younger, you will require your parent / guardian or a responsible adult to register your drone and provide a registration number to display on the drone. If you are under 13 years, you will require an adult to be present with you when you register and take the test for a flyer ID. 

Any drone you purchase should have a CE marking to show compliance with minimum safety requirements.

Can I use a drone for my business?

From 31st December 2021 the requirements to have permission from CAA for commercial work have changed. The rules are based on the risk of the flight; where you fly, proximity to other people and the size and weight of your drone. There will no longer be a distinction between flying commercially and flying for pleasure or recreation.

If you are flying as part of a business then you should carefully read www.caa.co.uk/CAP722 . Due to the rules on proximity to people and overflight of congested areas in most cases, if you have an existing operator authorisation from the CAA, you may still require one under the new regulations.

Where can I fly a drone?

The simplest way to determine this is to ask where drones are not allowed to be flown as all guidance is based on the law.

It is very clear where you must not fly a drone.

You must not fly:

  • Near any airfield, airport or other aircraft - Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ), unless you have permission to do so (see https://www.nats.aero/airspace/drones/ )
  • Diagram showing flight restriction zone around an airfield
  • Over large assemblies of people
  • In any way that may cause a danger to people or property
  • Depending on the weight of the drone, within 50m of uninvolved people or property
  • Fly beyond sight or behind obstructions
  • Above 400 ft. (120m)
  • If there are any problems with the drone

What laws are there about drones?

The main law is covered within the Air Navigation Order 2016 and Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021. Misuse of a drone may also breach other laws including disorderly behaviour, voyeurism, breach of the peace, criminal damage and harassment. If you are unsure if you are within the law, ask before you fly. If you are looking for further guidance contact us here.

Can I learn to fly a drone?

We would encourage anybody who owns, or wishes to own and fly a drone to ensure they are competent to fly their technology. To obtain a Flyer ID from CAA, the flyer will be required to pass an online education package (https://register-drones.caa.co.uk ). Guidance on the safe use and enjoyment of your drone should be available from the manufacturer. If you fly a drone we would recommend obtaining a Flyer ID, even if the drone is <250g. There are companies available who offer training in use of drones including addition course which may be required to fly your drone legally in UK. Normally anybody who wishes to fly a drone commercially will need to undertake a training course. Whatever level of guidance or training you receive, we would encourage that your first flights should be in open areas where you have permission to fly, with no risk to other persons or property.

Concerns about a drone flying?

Most concerns about drones will be non-emergency. To report your concerns please contact PSNI on 101, or contact us here. Only if there is an emergency where you need immediate assistance, or feel threatened please dial 999.

Further information

For more information on the different flight categories, including separation distances and operator registration/pilot competency requirements can be found here : register-drones.caa.co.uk/drone-code

 

The leading authority within Northern Ireland on aviation is the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). More information on owning or flying drones, privately and commercially, can be found at https://www.caa.co.uk/Consumers/Unmanned-aircraft-and-drones .