Whether you got your first drone for Christmas or you’re a seasoned drone pilot, it’s important to understand that the law surrounding drone flying and photography changes regularly. This is to be expected – drones are a relatively new technology and the government is still trialling the best ways to monitor and regulate drone usage so its safe and unintrusive for the general public.
Over the Christmas break, it is suspected that drone pilots caused Gatwick Airport to shut down for two days, grinding flights to a halt as the police tried to ensure no harm would be caused to planes taking off or landing within the airspace.
Here are some of the most important laws to remember and adhere to.
Rule 1 from The Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code: “Don’t fly near airports or airfields.”
It sounds obvious, but flying near airports and airfields is an offence. As well as disrupting flights, you could put lives at risk. Your hobby drone might not seem dangerous, but to a landing Airbus it could cause severe problems should it enter its flightpath.
Be safe, and keep your drone 1km away from airfield or airport boundaries.
Do I Need a Drone License?
If you are flying your drone as a hobby, you don’t need an official licence as long as your machine weighs 20kg or less and you obey aviation regulations. Operators of drones between 250g and 20kg will need to be registered and you will also need to take a competency test.
These aviation regulations are governed by the Civilian Aviation Authority or CAA, from the Navigation Order 2016. Within smaller articles in the law, the legislation states that you only need a CAA license to fly your drone if you are using it for commercial reasons – for example, as a photographer.
If you are planning to use your drone commercially, you can apply for a CAA license here. A general competency test is also required.
The main rules you need to follow as a drone pilot are very easy to follow and understand.
- Keep your drone in sight at all times
- Do not fly your drone over 400ft
- Do not fly your drone over a congested area
- Do not fly your drone within 150m of a vehicle or building not owned or controlled by you
- Don’t take photos without permission – all images taken with a drone will be subject to privacy laws.
To make things even easier, the CAA came up with a simple summary of the rules to follow when flying drones. To remember it, just think DRONE:
Don’t fly near airports or airfields.
Remember to stay below 400ft (120m).
Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property.
Never fly near aircraft.
What are the Penalties?
In response to the chaotic events at Gatwick Airport, new legislation has given the police additional powers to land drones and require drone pilots to produce the appropriate documentation.
Police can now also search premises and seize drones – including the electronic data stored within the device – where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.
For minor drone offences such as failing to produce the documents required in order to prove your legibility for flying your drone, police will be able to issue fixed-penalty notices, with fines of up to £100.
This is not an exhaustive list of the rules and regulations surrounding drone piloting. Bear in mind that these laws can change, especially when events such as what happened at Gatwick take place. Use your initiative and common sense, and check the government’s drone laws page for more information.
If you believe you have been unfairly prosecuted for your drone usage then please get in touch with our specialist solicitors who can assist you in a range of circumstances.