Where can and can’t I fly my drone?

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 disruptive and 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 regular changes make it difficult to know what you can and can’t do with the flying bots.

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

The government ran a public consultation on a batch of new proposals from July 6 2018 to September 17 2018, which attracted 5061 responses. It revealed the outcome of consultation on January 7 2019, and there are some significant UK drone law updates to be aware of if you wish to avoid fines and potential prison sentences.

Considering the disruption caused by drones at Gatwick and Heathrow airports over recent weeks, it’s no surprise that the government has decided to extend the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned from being flown.

It will be illegal to fly a drone within 5km of an airport, up from 1km.

Furthermore, the government says: “The new restriction zone will include rectangular extensions from the end of runways measuring 5km long by 1km wide to better protect take-off and landing paths.”

From November 30 2019, drone operators will have to register their device 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 £1000.

Police are also going to be given extra powers. Officers will be able to “enter and/or search premises, with a warrant, where there is reasonable suspicion that there is a drone and/or its associated components which the police reasonably suspects of having been involved in the commission of an offence”.

They’ll also be able to issue fixed penalty notices (FPN) up to £100 for minor drone-related offences, “as a way to immediately and effectively enforce as a deterrent to offenders and to reduce pressure on Magistrates’ Courts”.

A drone user could be slapped with an FPN for committing any of the following offences:

  • Not producing registration documentation, and/or proof of registration for drones between 250g and up to and including 20kg in mass, at the request of a police constable
  • Not producing evidence of any other relevant permissions required by legislation, for example if you are a commercial drone operator or have an exemption from the CAA from an ANO 2016 article
  • 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

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.

“The Home Office will also begin to test and evaluate the safe use of a range of counter-drone technology in the UK,” is the government’s official line at present.

“This crucial technology will detect drones from flying around sensitive sites, including airports and prisons, and develop a range of options to respond to drones, helping to prevent a repeat of incidents such as that recently experienced at Gatwick.”

UK Drone Laws: What’s coming next?

As mentioned above, UK drone laws have been subject to regular changes and, though it isn’t yet clear when the new legislation will come into force, plenty more changes could be made in the near future.

It was only as recently as 30 July 2018, that the government made it illegal to fly a drone above 400ft or within 1km of airport boundaries. While the former remains in place, the latter has already been deemed insufficient.

Anyone who flouts that 400ft rule 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.

So what steps might the government take next?

It says it still “supports a minimum operator age [of 18], but will defer a decision until there is clarification and confirmation from EASA regarding future legislation at the European level with regards minimum ages for drone operators and remote pilots.”

It’s also 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,” last year’s public consultation explained.

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.

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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 2500 to 3800 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!

Is it difficult keeping up with changing drone laws? Share your experiences with us @TrustedReviews.

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