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Q923: What are drones and are they legal?

Drones or 'small unmanned aircraft' are essentially flying robots. The aircraft can be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously using inbuilt software controlled flight plans. Designed by the military, they are becoming increasingly popular among members of the public.

In relation to drones and model aircraft from 250g to 20kg that are used outdoors, there are three main requirements. You must:

    • pass an online test to get a flyer ID if you want to fly a drone or model aircraft
    • register for an operator ID if you're responsible for a drone or model aircraft
    • label any drones and model aircraft you're responsible for with your operator ID.

Please see the following link for details on how to register:

Civil Aviation Authority - drone and model aircraft registration

If you are considering using a drone for recreational purposes, you should be aware of the restrictions below, which will apply to any flight where permission from the CAA (see Q543) has not been obtained:

  • You must not fly a 'small unmanned aircraft' more than 400 feet above the surface.
  • If you are using a 'small unmanned surveillance aircraft' (i.e. a drone with a camera fitted to it), you must not fly it:
    • over or within 150 metres of a congested area (an area substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes).
    • over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons.
    • within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure that is not under your control.
    • within 50 metres of any person.

Use your common sense and fly safely - making sure you can see the drone at all times. If you want to fly for commercial reasons, you will need to get permission from the CAA.

Commercial reasons means using a drone or model aircraft in return for payment in any way. For example, if someone pays you to record or take photos of an event.

If you have any concerns about unmanned aircraft being used in your area, either from a safety or privacy perspective, contact your local police force.

Misuse of a drone can lead to a criminal offence being committed. For any further help on how to use a drone safely and legally, please see the websites in the related links section.

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