Drone laws explained

MCN explain drone laws

Drone Laws Explained

by Seth Walton |

There’s been a real buzz around drone flying over the last few years, both commercially and for a bit of fun. The appeal is evident – taking to the skies with a remote-controlled aircraft capable of mind-bending feats of aerial acrobatics would make a day out in anyone’s books, but for videographers, the satisfaction stretches even further.

Drones now grant the ability to reach previously unobtainable vantage points, offering new aerial perspectives that are both dizzying and breathtaking in equal measure. They are the future of videography now but starting off your drone flying journey isn’t as simple as cracking open the box, charging it up and taking off.

To keep the drone flying safe and under control, the government has implemented a body of the legislature, preventing accidents by virtue of inexperience or dangerous flying. To stay within the confines of the law, these rules must always be met. Not sure what they are? Here’s a short guide to help you get going.

Need the drone itself? We've put together a list of our favourites here, as well as MCN’s favourite motorcycle trackers.

The license

To legally fly or manage a drone, licensing must first be obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority. Drone licenses are split into two groups:

Flyer – Anyone who wishes to fly a drone must first pass a theory test to obtain a flyer ID. This license will prove to the police or any other official body that the flyer has passed a basic flying test and can adequately fly the drone in a safe and legal manner.

Operator – This license pertains to the owner of the drone. If a drone flight is found to have broken the law, should the owner not have the appropriate operator ID, they will be at risk of penalty. The operator ID is a registration number and must be always labelled on the drone – similarly to a number plate on a car.

If a drone flyer or operator is found not to have the appropriate IDs, they can be fined for breaking the law. In the most severe cases, they may even be at risk of a prison sentence.

Luckily, flyer or operator IDs are easy and affordable licenses to obtain. The flyer ID is free to pass and lasts for five years while the operator ID costs £10 and is valid for just one year.

Photo: Pok Rie

When does a toy become a legal drone?

You can usually tell between a toy and a drone by spotting a few indicators. These include:

• Packaging that describes the product as a toy
• Markings that indicate the product is suitable for 14-year-olds and below
• Bought from a reputable toy brand or shop
• Advertised in packaging to attract children

If your product is a toy weighing under 250g, no flyer ID or operator ID is required. This is still the case if the drone weighs under 250g and isn’t a toy but doesn’t have a camera. If your drone falls under the latter criteria but does have a camera, an operator license will need to be obtained.

Drones are split into five classes from C0 to C4 based on their weight or model. The IDs you need to legally fly are applicable to your drone, so be sure to ascertain your drone’s class before applying.

New drones feature class marks to indicate which C class they’re in. However, older drones or privately built drones will need to have their class determined following weight requirements.

Do I need to insure my drone?

Again, this will come down to its weight.

Any drones or model aircraft flown for recreational, sporting, or hobbyist purposes do not require third-party insurance if the aircraft weighs under 20kg. Of course, you can choose to insure your drone if you wish but this is not legally necessary.

If your drone falls below the weight threshold but you intend to fly it for any reason other than those already specified, you must purchase third-party insurance by law.

If your drone weighs above 20kg, you must have third-party insurance - no matter the intention of the operator.

Click here to find out more on flying and operating licenses, as well as where to take your test.

Photo: Pixabay

What else does the law say?

The government has stipulated a handful of responsibilities to be undertaken by the drone flyer and operator during flight– no matter the intention. Once a drone flying license has been obtained, it is the obligation of both the operator and the flyer to ensure that the drone is flown in such a manner. The government has set out these responsibilities as the following:

• To know how to fly your drone safely, and do so within the law
• To understand that the operator is legally responsible for every flight
• To keep your drone in sight at all times and stay below 400ft
• Not to fly your drone over a congested area, never fly within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or building not under your control
• Ensure any images you obtain using the drone do not break privacy laws
• To avoid collisions, you should never fly a drone near an airport or close to aircraft. It is a criminal offence to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight.

You can read more government-published literature on drone flying on gov.co.uk, including a conclusive list of 10 things to know before flying a drone.

What are the rules around vehicle tracking with a drone?

The new aerial perspectives granted by drones have caused a revolution in the automotive videography world especially, as creators have now harnessed the use of the ‘follow-me’ feature that many drones offer to create autonomous footage. Once this mode has been active, the drone can then be assigned a subject and follow it automatically, without the need for a flyer on the ground.

This has proven especially useful for automotive filming as bike riders can have a drone track their movement without the need for anyone to operate any controls, thus allowing smoother footage and the ability to film alone.

When it comes to the rules around follow-me drone flying, they’re much the same, but there are also some leniencies. If the drone has been set to fly within a fixed distance of 50m or less, the drone does not have to remain in sight. All other drone rules must be followed.

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