19 August 2019
This is the second article in our five part series covering UK and EU drone regulation. You can read Part 1 here.
As mentioned in Part 1, the UK and EU have been legislating to improve drone safety. Here we discuss UK law, which is contained in the Air Navigation Order 2016 (as amended).
If the person(s) responsible for flying the drone(s) at Gatwick airport in December 2018 are caught, they might be accused of committing the offence of recklessly or negligently:
There are specific rules for small drones (defined as small unmanned aircraft) which weigh no more than 20kg, including that a person must not cause or permit any article or animal to be dropped from a drone so as to endanger persons or property.
UK law distinguishes between the operator of the drone and its pilot. The operator is the person who has the "management" of (ie is responsible for) the drone. This is usually the person who owns it. The pilot is the person who operates the flight controls. Often, the operator and pilot are the same person. The UK's Drone Safe website is useful, and sets out some of the basics.
Some prohibited acts are subject to exceptions if the operator and pilot have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and/or relevant air traffic control (see here). Obtaining permission is often vital for the commercial use of drones.
Some restrictions apply both to the operator (who must not permit the drone to be flown in a certain way) and the pilot (who must not fly it in that way). For example, drones must not be flown:
There are also strict rules for drones which can collect data. This includes drones with cameras, which will apply to most drones. They must not be flown:
This means that the operator and pilot of a 'surveillance' drone must keep it well away from other people, cars and buildings. It is likely that this rule will be breached by people flying their drone in the park or on the beach during the day and result in numerous complaints, eg to the police.
The government is proposing new police powers relating to the misuse of drones, as set out in the draft Drones Bill. Interestingly, unlike the EU drone rules, the UK rules do not say anything about drone use endangering animals.
From 30 November 2019, the operator of a drone which is between 250g and 20kg must not cause or permit the drone to be flown unless:
To obtain a certificate of registration, the operator must be aged 18 years or over and pay the annual registration charge (which the CAA has proposed will be £16.50).
Also from 30 November 2019, a pilot must not fly a drone between 250g and 20kg unless the CAA has issued the pilot with an acknowledgment of competency. The online test will likely cover safety, security, privacy, data protection and the environment. There will be no lower age limit or fee to take the test. Pilots must not fly unless they have a reasonable belief that the operator has obtained a registration certificate and displayed the number on the drone.