UK Drone Air Law Explained

As the drone industry continues to boom, with the adapting technology going from a niche geek gadget to a high street phenomenon, we have seen year on year increases in disruptive and potentially dangerous incidents involving them. UK drone laws as a result of this are having to keep evolving, to ensure the protection of both drone users and the general public. However, regular changes are making it difficult for drone pilots to know what you can and can’t do in order to guarantee a safe flight.

In order to proceed with confidence and peace of mind, ensure that you have caught up with all of the below UK drone laws. Just to make you aware – this blog post is not light reading, it is a technical piece!

Aviation Governance

In the UK, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is the regulatory body for matters regarding all forms of civil aviation. It is CAA policy that UAS operating in the UK must meet at least the same safety and operation standards as manned aircraft. UAS operations must not present or create a greater hazard to people, property vehicles or vessels, while in the air or on the ground than that already caused by the operations of manned aircraft. There are a number of Civil Aviation Publications that apply to pilots in which we have taken the relevant articles and explained them below.

CAP 393 – Air Navigation Order 2016

CAP 393 relates to an SUA operator and Remote Pilot.

Article 94 – Small Unmanned Aircraft: Requirements

A person must not cause or licence any object or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft in order to endanger a person or property.

The remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can be safely made.

The remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, people, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

If a small unmanned aircraft has a mass of more than 7kg, excluding its fuels, but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, the SUA operator/remote pilot must not cause or permit the aircraft to be flown in a Class A,C,D,E airspace – unless you have obtained the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit. The same applies within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control until has been obtained.

The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown for the purposes of commercial operations, and the remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly it for the purposes of commercial operations, except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.

Article 94A – Small Unmanned Aircraft: Height Restriction on Flights

The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, unless the permission of the CAA has been obtained.

Article 94B – Small Unmanned Aircraft: Restriction on Flights that are over or near aerodromes

This article applies to a flight by a small unmanned aircraft within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome.

Protected Aerodrome Definition: An EASA certified aerodrome, a Government aerodrome, a national licensed aerodrome or an aerodrome that is prescribed or of a prescribed description.

Flight Restriction Zone: of a protected aerodrome consists of the following two zones – the “Inner Zone” which is the area within, and including, the boundary of the aerodrome and the “Outer Zone” which is the area between the boundary of the aerodrome and the line that is 1km from the boundary of the aerodrome.

The 1km line is to be drawn so that the area which is limited by it includes every location that is 1km from the boundary of the aerodrome, measured in any direction from any point on the boundary.

Article 95 – Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft

A Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft Definition: a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.

The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned surveillance aircraft to be flown in any of the below circumstances and the remote pilot of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly it in any of those circumstances, except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA:

  1. Over or within 150 metres of any congested area
  2. Over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons
  3. Within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the SUA operator or the remote pilot of the aircraft

The above rules do not apply to the remote pilot of small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the remote pilot and the distance is therefore reduced to 30 metres during take-off or landing.

Article 241 – Endangering Safety of any person or property

A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.

CAP 722 – Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance

The content of CAP 722 does not replace civil regulations but provides guidance for civil UAS operations. The document provides guidance on acceptable means of compliance with the regulations.

With a standard permission an SUA gets an automatic exemption from the 150m separation distance from congested areas. This allows flight within congested areas to within 50 metres of people, vessels, vehicles and structures. Flights directly overhead of persons and vehicles will not be allowed at any height in a congested area unless they are under the control of the Remote Pilot or SUA Operator.

CAP 382 – Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme

CAP 382 Reportable Occurrence: Any incident which endangers or which, if not corrected, would endanger an aircraft, its occupants or any other person.

UAS Mandatory Reportable Occurrences:

  1. Loss of control/data link – where that failure resulted in an event that was potentially damaging to the safety of other airspace users or third parties
  2. Navigation Failures
  3. Pilot station configuration changes/errors e.g. between pilot stations, transfer to/from launch control, display failures
  4. Crew Resource Management (CRM) failures/confusion
  5. Structural damage/heavy landings
  6. Flight programming errors (e.g. incorrect speed programmed)
  7. Any incident that injures a third party

The current issue of the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme is a web page. It contains the reporting and requirements and a link to ECCAIRS (European Co-ordination Centre for Accident and Incident Reporting System) which is currently used for reporting occurrences and incidents in the UK.


Accidents and serious incidents must be reported to the AAIB (Air Accident Investigation Branch) and they need to know as much of the following information as possible:

  1. Type, model, nationality and registration marks of the aircraft
  2. The names of the owner, operator, and hirer (if any) of the aircraft
  3. The name of the commander of the aircraft
  4. The date and time of the accident or serious incident
  5. The last point of departure and the next point of intended landing of the aircraft
  6. The position of the aircraft in relation to some easily defined geographical location
  7. The number of persons killed or seriously injured because of the accident
  8. The nature of the accident or serious incident and the extent of damage as far as is known

Just Culture

The CAA embraces a ‘Just Culture’ in the interests of the ongoing development of flight safety.

This means the CAA supports the development, within all areas of the aviation community of a culture in which individuals are not punished for actions decisions taken by them that are equal with their experience and training, but which result in a reportable event. However, gross negligence, violations and destructive acts are not tolerated.

Insurance – EC785/2004

Most operators of aircraft, irrespective of the purpose for which they fly, are to hold adequate levels of insurance to meet their liabilities in the event of an accident. This EC Regulation specifies amongst other things the minimum levels of third-party accident and war risk insurance for aircraft operating into, over, or within the EU (including UAS) depending on their maximum take off mass.

If you wish to learn more, take a look at the Drone Safe website which is backed by the CAA. Here at Coverdrone, we wish you many a safe flight!