Know the Law

Most model aircraft fliers tend to fly from specific, designated sites and as part of a club environment which is clearly the best way to learn and get most out of the sport. However, ‘solo’ flight from other locations is also possible provided that the models are operated in accordance with the requirements of the law and are flown with respect to the safety of other people and aircraft.

The regulations for model aircraft and drone flights are contained within the Air Navigation Order  (ANO) which is the primary document for all aviation regulations within the United Kingdom.  In order to keep the regulations at a proportionate level for smaller models, a set of specific, simpler, regulations apply to aircraft that have a mass of 20kg or less (which are termed ‘small unmanned aircraft’ within the ANO).

In simple terms, these regulations state that:

  • You are responsible for flying your model aircraft in a safe manner
  • You must keep the model aircraft in your direct sight at all times while it is flying, so that you can ensure that it does not collide with anything, especially other aircraft
  • You must not endanger anyone, or any thing with your model aircraft, including any articles that you drop from it
  • You must not fly at a height greater than 400ft above the surface unless permitted to by the CAA  – see further details below
  • You must not fly within the Flight Restriction Zone of a protected aerodrome

The full regulations that relate to model aircraft and drones are shown below.

The Air Navigation Order

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

  1. A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
  2. The remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
  3. 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, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
  4. Intentionally blank (articles removed)
  5. 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.

(1) If the permission or permissions that are required under this article for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft have not been obtained-

(a) the SUA operator must not cause or permit the small unmanned aircraft to be flown on that flight or that part of the flight; and
(b) the remote pilot must not fly the small unmanned aircraft on that flight or that part of the flight.

(2) Permission from the CAA is required for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface

(3) But permission from the CAA is not required under paragraph (2) if-

(a) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place in a flight restriction zone at a protected aerodrome, and
(b) permission for the flight, or the part of the flight, is required under paragraph (4) from an air traffic control unit or a flight information service unit.

(4) Permission for a flight, or a part of a flight, by a small unmanned aircraft in the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome is required-

(a) from any air traffic control unit at the protected aerodrome, if the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place during the operational hours of the air traffic control unit;
(b) from any flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome, if the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place during the operational hours of the flight information service unit and either-

(i) there is no air traffic control unit at the protected aerodrome, or
(ii) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place outside the operational hours of the air traffic   control unit at the protected aerodrome;

(c) from the operator of the protected aerodrome, if-

(i) there is neither an air traffic control unit nor a flight information service unit at the protected aerodrome; or
(ii) the flight, or the part of the flight, takes place outside the operational hours of any such unit or units at the protected aerodrome.

(5) In this article, “operational hours”, in relation to an air traffic control unit or flight information service unit, means the operational hours-

(a) notified in relation to the unit, or
(b) set out in the UK military AIP in relation to the unit.

(6) In this article and article 94B, “protected aerodrome” means-

(a) an EASA certified aerodrome,
(b) a Government aerodrome,
(c) a national licensed aerodrome, or
(d) an aerodrome that is prescribed, or of a description prescribed, for the purposes of this paragraph.

(7) The “flight restriction zone” of a protected aerodrome is to be determined for the purposes of this article in accordance with the following table-

Type of protected aerodrome The “flight restriction zone”
A protected aerodrome which is-

(a) an EASA certified aerodrome,

(b) a Government aerodrome, or

(c) a national licensed aerodrome,

and which has an aerodrome traffic zone.

The flight restriction zone consists of-

(a) the aerodrome traffic zone at the aerodrome,

(b) any runway protection zones at the aerodrome, and

(c) any additional boundary zones at the aerodrome.

A protected aerodrome which is-

(a) an EASA certified aerodrome,

(b) a Government aerodrome, or

(c) a national licensed aerodrome, but which does not have an aerodrome traffic zone.

The flight restriction zone consists of the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within the area bounded by a circle centred on the notified mid-point of the longest runway and having a radius of two nautical miles.

But if the longest runway does not have a notified mid-point, the mid-point of that runway is to be used instead for the purposes of determining the flight restriction zone.

A protected aerodrome that is prescribed, or of a description prescribed, under paragraph (6)(d). The flight restriction zone consists of the zone that is prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph.

(1) This article makes provision about the meaning of expressions used in the definition of “flight restriction zone” in article 94A that applies in relation to a protected aerodrome which is-

(a) an EASA certified aerodrome,
(b) a Government aerodrome, or
(c) a national licensed aerodrome,

and which has an aerodrome traffic zone.

(2) Subject to paragraph (4), there is one runway protection zone for each runway threshold of each runway at the aerodrome.

(3) A “runway protection zone”, in relation to a runway threshold at the aerodrome, is the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within the area bounded by a rectangle-

(a) whose longer sides measure 5 km;
(b) whose shorter sides measure-

(i) 1 km (except in the case of Heathrow Airport);
(ii) 1.5 km, in the case of Heathrow Airport; and

(c) which is positioned so that-

(i) one of the shorter sides of the rectangle (“side A”) runs across the runway threshold, and
(ii) the two longer sides of the rectangle are parallel to, and equidistant from, the extended runway centre line as it extends from side A out to, and beyond, the runway end to which the runway threshold relates.

(4) There is no runway protection zone-

(a) for any runway threshold at the London Heliport;
(b) for any runway threshold that is prescribed, or of a description prescribed, for the purposes of this paragraph.

(5) The “runway threshold” of a runway at the aerodrome is the location that, for the purpose of demarcating the start of the portion of the runway that is useable for landing, is-

(a) notified as the threshold of the runway, or
(b) set out as the threshold of the runway in the UK military AIP.

(6) The “extended runway centre line”, in relation to a runway at the aerodrome, is an imaginary straight line which runs for the length of the runway along its centre and then extends beyond both ends of the runway.

(7) An “additional boundary zone” is the airspace extending from the surface to a height of 2,000 feet above the level of the aerodrome within any part of the area between-

(a) the boundary of the aerodrome, and
(b) a line that is 1 km from the boundary of the aerodrome (the “1 km line”),

that is neither within the aerodrome traffic zone nor within any runway protection zone at the aerodrome.

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

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this article, the CAA must issue a certificate of registration as an SUA operator to a person, or renew that person’s certificate of registration as an SUA operator, if the person— (a) has applied to the CAA, in such manner as the CAA may require, to be registered as an SUA operator, (b) has supplied such information and evidence as the CAA may require, and (c) has, in the case of an individual, attained the age (if any) that is prescribed.

(2) Subject to paragraph (3), a certificate of registration may relate— (a) to a particular description of small unmanned aircraft; (b) to a particular description of flights by small unmanned aircraft.

(3) No certificate of registration is to be issued in relation to—

(a) small unmanned aircraft with a mass of less than 250 grams without their fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of their flight, or
(b) flights by small unmanned aircraft of that description.

(4) A certificate of registration issued, or renewed, under this article is valid for the period shown on the certificate, subject to— (a) article 253, or (b) the SUA operator notifying the CAA, in such manner as the CAA may require, that the SUA operator surrenders the certificate.

(5) The CAA is not required to accept applications for certificates of registration under this article before 1st October 2019.

(1) This article applies to a flight by a small unmanned aircraft only if it has a mass of 250 grams or more without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.

(2) The SUA operator must not cause or permit the small unmanned aircraft to be flown unless— (a) the CAA has issued the SUA operator with a certificate of registration which is valid for that flight at the time of the flight, and (b) the SUA operator’s registration number is displayed on the aircraft in the manner (if any) that is prescribed.

(3) The remote pilot of the small unmanned aircraft must not fly it unless the remote pilot has reasonably formed the view that the SUA operator complies with the requirements in paragraph (2) in relation to that flight.

(4) In this article— “certificate of registration” means a certificate issued under article 94C; “registration number” means the ten digit registration number assigned by the CAA in relation to an SUA operator’s registration under article 94C.

(1) Subject to the following provisions of this article, the CAA must issue an acknowledgement of competency to an individual, or renew that individual’s acknowledgement of competency, if the individual—

(a) has applied to the CAA, in such manner as the CAA may require, for an acknowledgement of competency,
(b) has supplied such information and evidence as the CAA may require,
(c) has undertaken such training as the CAA may require, and
(d) has undergone such tests as the CAA may require.

(2) That training or those tests may relate to matters which include—

(a) the practical operation of small unmanned aircraft;
(b) matters connected with the operation of small unmanned aircraft (such as respect for privacy, data protection, safety, security and environmental protection).

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), an acknowledgement of competency may relate—

(a) to a particular description of small unmanned aircraft;
(b) to a particular description of flights by small unmanned aircraft.

(4) No acknowledgement of competency is to be issued in relation to—

(a) small unmanned aircraft with a mass of less than 250 grams without their fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of their flight, or
(b) flights by small unmanned aircraft of that description.

(5) An acknowledgement of competency issued, or renewed, under this article is valid for the period shown on the acknowledgement, subject to article 253.

(6) The CAA may issue an acknowledgement of competency subject to such conditions as it deems appropriate.

(7) The CAA is not required to accept applications for acknowledgements of competency under this article before 1st October 2019.

(1) This article applies to a flight by a small unmanned aircraft only if it has a mass of 250 grams or more without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.

(2) The remote pilot of the small unmanned aircraft must not fly it unless the CAA has issued the remote pilot with an acknowledgement of competency which is valid for that flight at the time of the flight.

(3) The SUA operator must not cause or permit the small unmanned aircraft to be flown unless the SUA operator has reasonably formed the view that the remote pilot of the aircraft complies with the requirements in paragraph (2) in relation to that flight.

(4) In this article “acknowledgement of competency” means an acknowledgement issued under article 94E.

In this Order—

(a) the “remote pilot”, in relation to a small unmanned aircraft, is an individual who—

(i) operates the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft by manual use of remote controls, or
(ii) when the small unmanned aircraft is flying automatically, monitors its course and is able to intervene and change its course by operating its flight controls;

(b) the “SUA operator”, in relation to a small unmanned aircraft, is the person who has the management of the small unmanned aircraft.”.

(1) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned surveillance aircraft to be flown in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2), 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.

(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are-

(a) over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
(b) over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
(c) 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; or
(d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.

(4) Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the remote pilot of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the remote pilot of the aircraft.

(5) In this article, “a small unmanned surveillance aircraft” means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.

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Article 94A – 400ft height limitation interpretation

small unmanned aircraft is defined as ‘any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight’.

An ‘SUA operator’, in relation to a small unmanned aircraft, is the person who has the management of the small unmanned aircraft.

congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes’.

These rules have been established to provide a safe environment in which small drones can be flown without coming into conflict with manned aircraft and without risk to other people or properties.

You must have a Permission issued by the CAA before you conduct any commercial operations with your drone.

Indoor use – The applicability of the regulations regarding flights within buildings has been clarified recently.  Under the CAA Act 1982, the Air Navigation Order is made for the purposes of regulating air navigation.  Flights inside buildings have nothing to do with air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air.  As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation.  Persons intending to operate drones indoors should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations.

In aviation terms, ‘height’ means the vertical distance of an object (in this case the small unmanned aircraft) from a specified point of datum (in this case above the surface of the earth). To cater for the few occasions where a small unmanned aircraft is being flown over hilly/undulating terrain or close to a cliff edge, the 400 ft height above the surface requirement may be interpreted as being a requirement to remain within a 400 ft distance from the surface, as shown in the diagram below. For the purposes of Article 94A, this is considered to be an acceptable means of compliance with the legal requirement.

Remember that the limitation applies to ‘heights above/distances from’ the surface of the earth. It does not automatically apply to heights/distances from tall buildings or other structures: in such cases, an additional permission from the CAA will be required, which will invariably also require permission to operate within a congested area.

First Person View

Unmanned aircraft that are fitted with video cameras often provide an opportunity to downlink ‘live’ video to the remote pilot either via a mobile phone, tablet computer or other screen, or even through video goggles – this capability provides the pilot with a pseudo ‘pilots eye view’ from the UAS itself and is generally given the term ‘First Person view’ (FPV).

However, the law [at ANO article 94(3)] requires that the remote pilot must maintain direct unaided visual contact with the aircraft which is sufficient to monitor its flight path so that collisions may be avoided.  This is obviously not possible if that person is wearing video goggles or otherwise constantly monitoring a display.  Therefore, FPV flight is only permitted if the activity has been approved by the CAA. A General Exemption has been issued which allows an element of ‘First Person View’ (FPV) flight to be conducted. If you wish to conduct an FPV flight which cannot be accommodated within the terms of this General Exemption, then you will need to apply to the CAA for an Exemption to do so.

Note: Images captured by a camera and displayed on a flat screen afford the pilot little by way of depth perception and no peripheral vision. This can make it difficult for the pilot to accurately judge speed and distance and to maintain sufficient awareness of the area surrounding the aircraft to effectively ‘see and avoid’ obstacles and other aircraft – as a result, the use of FPV equipment is not an acceptable mitigation for Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight unless the relevant operator has received a specific approval to do so from the CAA

Indoor use

The applicability of the regulations with regard to flights within buildings has been clarified recently.  Under the CAA Act 1982, the Air Navigation Order is made for the purposes of regulating air navigation.  Flights inside buildings have nothing to do with air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air.  As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation.  Persons intending to operate unmanned aircraft indoors should refer to the appropriate Health and Safety At Work regulations.