Thousands of Drone Owners in the UK Are Breaking the Law Without Realizing

Last updated December 5th, 2019
An aerial shot of The Shard in London

Drone owners in the UK could face some tough penalties if they’re found guilty of breaking new drone legislation that came into force on November 30th, 2019.

The maximum fine for flying a drone that breaches the new legislation is £1,000.

The biggest issue is that almost no-one seems to know about it.

The legislation brings the UK in line with the US — if a drone weighs between 250g and 20kg then its owner must be registered online with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This can be done here.

Once registered as a drone operator, owners will receive an Operator ID that can be applied to multiple drones via the use of stickers. There is an annual fee for an Operator ID of approximately £9.

Operators are legally responsible for their drone(s) and must be at least 18 years of age. That means if you’re younger than 18, you need an adult to be legally responsible for the ownership of the drone.

The owner must have also passed an online competency test in order to fly, answering at least 16 of 20 multiple choice questions correctly. Anyone wishing to fly the drone will have to passed this test, too, to pick up a required Flyer ID.

The educational package provided to pass the test — as well as the Flyer ID provided — is free. Refreshers are required every three years.

Those aged under 18 and wishing to fly will still need to pass the online competency test. Those aged 12 and under must have parental supervision whilst completing it.

The vast majority of recreational drones fall into the bracket of being required to be registered, excluding miniature toy drones.

These laws have already seen manufacturers doing their best to sneakily avoid them. The new Mavic Mini, from DJI weighs exactly 249g.

We spoke to one drone owner in the UK to ask for their thoughts on the situation:

“I am a recreational flyer. I probably fly my drone around once a month on average — sometimes 2-3 times per month, but then I’ll go a couple of months without using it again. I like to take pictures from the skies when me and my wife have weekends away in the countryside. I had absolutely no idea that I’d be breaking the law the next time I fly it. I don’t even know how much my drone weighs, but it’s definitely more than 250 grams.”

We also asked a police officer in the UK about their thoughts of the new legislation. They hadn’t heard of it. When we revealed the details to them, they expressed some concerns about enforcing the laws in this area, stating that they “think there are bigger priorities to deal with right now”.

Both sources wished to remain anonymous.

The Telegraph say that of an estimated 90,000 drone owners in the UK, only 40,000 have registered so far. However, the BBC say that the number is 50,000 out of 130,000. Both cite the CAA as their source. Either way, there are lots of unregistered drone owners out there currently.

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