Recently, the UK government announced plans for a drone register to come into place at an as-yet-undisclosed point in the foreseeable future. We don’t yet know when, or what getting registered will entail, but with the increasing popularity of the flying machines, it is important that any drone pilot is up to date on the current drone laws before the register comes in.
The CAA (UK Civil Aviation Authority) covers all private aircraft in the UK, and its website is a little tricky to navigate. So we decided to break down the basics of UK drone laws for anyone looking to get into this growing market.
Understanding the basics of UK drone laws
To begin with, establish what model of drone you want. Since most drones used for commercial filming are under 20kg, we will concentrate on those.
For flying a small drone for fun, there is no specific training required, so long as you stick to the basic drone laws.
The Drone Must Not Be Flown:
- Within 150 metres of an organised open air assembly of more than 1000 people or any congested area.
- Within 50 meters of any vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the drone.
- Within 50 metres of any person, except the person in charge of the drone.
- Within restricted airspace. You can find details about restricted airspace at No Fly Dones which is a great tool for planning your drone flying both commercially and privately.
The Drone Pilot Must Always:
- Ensure that your drone is in sight at all times.
- Be visible to the public at all times.
- Remain below 400ft.
Like all things, just use your common sense and it should go without saying that you shouldn’t fly a drone anywhere that it could potentially endanger people, animals or property. No matter what, always put safety before getting the shot.
Getting Paid For Drone Work
If you are going to be getting paid for the work you do, this is where things can get complicated and potentially very expensive.
You will need to complete a training course with CAA accreditation. There are plenty of drone flying schools around the country, the majority costing between £1200-£2000 depending on the course type.
The school won’t teach you to fly your drone from scratch, and you will be expected to have practised and learned the basics before attending. Much like doing a driving test, the course is broken down into a theory and a practical exam, and you will bring your drone with you to take the exams.
Each course lasts 4-6 days and will include a portion of remote study (for the theory test) which means you only need to spend 1-2 days on site demonstrating your skills.
Once you have passed the exam, you can start making money selling your services, right? Not exactly. The training course doesn’t grant you a license or permission to fly. Before you earn those stripes, you will need to apply to the CAA for Permission at a cost of £173–£1211 for 12 months. You’ll be reviewed annually, with the potential that you may need to retake the training if you can not prove that you are a safe and competent operator.
Most of the schools we researched will help you with the CAA application, and also offer a formal recommendation to accompany it. As soon as you’re training is completed and you’re fully CAA accredited, you can start flying and selling your services. However, there are other things you or your producer will need to take into account. That’s right, paperwork.
The CAA have regulations over the insurance you’ll need to operate commercially, so speak to your insurer directly about making sure you have the necessary coverage.
To fulfil your insurance obligations, you will need to complete a risk assessment before flying. Along with all the usual risk assessment details, you will also need to consider things such as flight paths, proximity to buildings, and wind speeds.
As with all film shoots you will need permission from the owner of the property. This is not just the property that the pilot/operator is standing on. The location release form needs to cover all the property that the drone will be flying over as well.
Remember you are filming, so the regular performance releases are still applicable – you must have permission for anyone you wish to feature in the footage. You are also prohibited by the standard privacy laws.
If all of that hasn’t put you off, commercial drone flying can be an exciting and lucrative profession. The most practical piece of advice we can give you is to get a drone, practice, learn to fly it, and book your training course.
We will bring you more information about the Drone Register as soon as we know more.