Who are the CAA?
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the statutory corporation which oversees and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the United Kingdom. In terms of drone usage, they provide permission for operators looking to use drones for commercial purposes, as well as providing advice to the general public and industry on how to fly drones safely and reduce any risk to aviation.
I have seen flying over my house / in a busy urban area / at an open air gathering. I believe it may be unsafe; who should I report it to?
As a general rule, unless the drone pilot has permission from the CAA, he or she should not be flying within 150m of a ‘congested area’ (e.g. town or city) or at a public event. The definition of a congested area is:
‘Congested area’ in relation to a city, town or settlement, means any area which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes’
When the pilot does have permission from the CAA, such flights are usually restricted to flight distances no closer than 50m from persons, vehicles and structures that are not ‘under the control’ of the pilot. Direct over-flight at any height is not usually permitted.
These restrictions mean that the use of a drone in public places is limited and often not suitable or legal unless the operator has received the appropriate permission from the CAA. To this end, our enforcement strategy has recently changed to better reflect the balance of capabilities between the CAA and local Police services. The Police often have greater resources, response times and powers of investigation than the CAA. To support this, the CAA has now agreed with the Police that they will take the lead in dealing with drone misuse incidents, particularly at public events, that may contravene aviation safety legislation or other relevant criminal legislation.
How safe are drones?
Small civil drones are not yet subject to the same level of design, build and continued- airworthiness certification that apply to most full-sized manned aircraft. This means that there are no specific aviation standards to be met in regards to structural integrity, reliability, stability and control, capability and performance, or any other measurable characteristics of the aircraft. For example, the popular electric multi-rotor type of drone relies solely on its motors for lift and flight- control, unlike full-size certified aircraft, and most traditional model aircraft, multi-rotor drones have no glide or autorotative (helicopter) capability if they suffer a major power failure.
Although some of these aircraft may well be built to general retail/consumer standards, these standards do not directly read-across into quantifiable levels of aviation safety assurance. To mitigate for this shortfall and to protect the uninvolved general public, restrictions have been placed on where commercial camera-drones can be used (minimum distances from people, not within urban areas, not flown beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot etc).
If a drone operator has demonstrated a sufficient level of pilot competency, through training and assessment on an approved commercial course, certain of these restrictions can be lifted in order to undertake a greater variety of commercial work.
Are there any specific regulations for drones (small unmanned aircraft - SUA)?
Article 166 - Small unmanned aircraft
- 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.
- The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
- The person in charge 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.
- The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft:
(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained;
(b) 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 unit has been obtained; or
(c) at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.
- The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA. Article 167 - Small unmanned surveillance aircraft (a small unmanned aircraft with a camera - SUSA)
- The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.
- 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 person in charge of the aircraft; or
(d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.
- Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.
- Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
- 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.
N.B. the term ‘over’ is taken to mean directly overhead at any height.
I am looking to hire a drone operator to do some marketing filming and photography; what should I look for?
The drone operator should have the permission of the CAA to do aerial work. At the current time, each commercial drone operator who has been granted CAA permission will have a document from us granting the permission and setting out conditions for its use. You should ask the operator to show you his or her permission document and discuss how the work might be achieved within the conditions of the permission.
I am a film-maker and want to use a drone to complement or replace my usual camera equipment. I am particularly interested in location shoots in one or more of the UK’s major cities.
The first thing to note is that in most cases this will not be possible without having at least a ‘standard’ permission from the CAA to allow some types of flights within congested areas. On its own, the standard permission does not give the right to fly unhindered and you will still require permission from the owner, manager or authority for the land from which the SUA will be taking off and landing. Invariably the conditions of the permission will also require that you ‘have control’ over the area you intend to use the camera-drone and this includes any persons or vehicles in the area over which you intend to operate the aircraft.