Are Drones Legal in the UK & Ireland?

Last updated January 1st, 2020

The number of drones in the air keeps increasing year on year. Likewise, the fear that they might one day become a hazard and cause a risk to public safety keeps growing.

A number of drone laws in the UK are therefore being rolled out to cope with the growing popularity of these flying devices to avoid dangerous situations.

Situations like the one that happened at Gatwick Airport.

What Happened in the Gatwick Drone Attacks?

On April 28th 2019, at least four flights heading for Gatwick were diverted to Stansted Airport after reports of drones flying in the area around Gatwick.

According to reports, passengers flying in from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Heraklion, and Berlin were diverted to nearby Stansted Airport.

The captain on the flight from Amsterdam told those on onboard that the diversion was necessary after a reported sighting of a drone in the Gatwick vicinity.

And even though nothing was picked up on radar or the airport’s anti-drone systems, the diverted flights could only complete their journey to Gatwick after 90 minutes of delay.

Likewise, a suspected drone caused a similar incident — a much more significant one — in December 2018, closing Gatwick Airport for 33 hours and disrupting the journeys of 140,000 people.

These are just a couple of examples to showcase why some legislators have so far remained largely conservative on the subject of drones.

While flying your drone is legal in both the UK and Ireland, a number of constantly evolving regulations have been passed to keep the public safe.

We explore the most important of these drone laws below.

Drone Laws in the UK

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK (CAA), it is perfectly legal to fly a drone in the UK. Drone flying is a vibrant activity in this part of the world, both as a recreational and commercial activity.

However, there are a few rules of which you must be aware.

Special Travel Considerations

In case you are thinking of travelling to the UK and intend to fly your drone while you are there, there some special considerations to take note of.

  • The CAA will hand out permissions to foreign-based drone pilots who wish to fly their drones commercially while in the UK. Permission will only be given, however, on the understanding that the pilot is able to satisfy the simple safety expectations that are expected for UK-based pilots.
  • Drone approvals or drone qualifications obtained in other countries are not automatically regarded as valid in the UK. To your drone in the United Kingdom, you must possess a valid UK permit for the sort of flight which you intend to make with your drone while in the UK.

Each application is considered on a case by case basis. However, the CAA will take note of your own national approval/qualification when deciding your application and the criteria that are emphasized within the permit.

You should apply as early as possible to allow enough time for processing.

Remember, this is for commercial use. The laws surrounding recreational use are more relaxed.

Further guidelines on applying and submitting your application can be gotten from this page of the CAA’s website.

You can also get in touch with the CAA and ask about any doubts you may have.

Permission Requirements for Flying a Commercial Drone in the UK

In order to obtain a standard permission to fly commercially (PfCO), you have to complete and submit the CAA’s online application form along with the following documents:

  • Initial Application: Operation Manual, Insurance, NQE full recommendation or an equivalent qualification
  • Renewal Application: Operation Manual, Insurance, Flight Logs
  • Variation Application: Operation Manual, Insurance, NQE recommendation or an equivalent if changing weight/ class category.
  • Renewal & Variation Application: Operation Manual, Insurance, NQE recommendation or an equivalent qualification if changing weight / class category, Flight Logs

You can learn more about the process for obtaining permission by accessing this page on the CAA’s website.

General Drone Laws for Flying in the UK

Drone flying is perfectly legal in the UK so long as you adhere to these general drone regulations, put in place to ensure the safety of life and property:

  • Any drone weighing 250g or more must be registered with the CAA.
  • Pilots of drones weighing 250g or more must take an online safety test.
  • Commercial drone pilots operating in the UK need a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • All commercial drone flights will require insurance.
  • You, the operator, are responsible for operating your UAV in a manner that is safe.
  • You must have your drone within direct line of sight always while it is in flight. In this way, you can make sure that it does not fly into anything.
  • You must not hurt anything or anyone with your drone, this includes any articles that fall from it.
  • drones, irrespective of mass, may not fly over 122 m (400 ft) above the ground .
  • If you fit a camera to your drone, there are a number of extra restrictions concerning where you can operate it, and how close you can operate it to bystanders and objects. In this case, you need permission from the CAA to encroach beyond the minimum distances in place as per drone regulations. Learn about permission here.
  • You cannot fly a drone within 150m (492ft) of any congested area or organized open-air group comprised of more than 1000 people. Likewise, you may not fly your drone within 50m (164ft) of any property, person, vehicle, vessel, or building which is not controlled of the drone pilot. These rules apply in addition to that which states that you may not fly over 122m (400ft) above the surface.
  • You mustn’t fly any UAV within 1 kilometer of the boundaries of a protected airspace without first obtaining permission to do so from the air control traffic tower, the flight information service unit, or whoever is in charge of the airport.
  • You must not cause or allow any item whatsoever (even if joined to a parachute) to be fall from a drone in a way that could potentially hurt people, animals or property.

Anyone in breach of these drone laws and restrictions could face penalties of up to £2,500 and could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner that could endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft.

The maximum sentence for misuse of drones is five years in prison.

And the police also have the right to issue fines in situ going up to £300 for misuse. They could also confiscate drones being used irresponsibly.

As already mentioned, these general drone regulations for the UK are subject to change as drones evolve. This post should not be considered legal advice and is here for educational purposes only. For a more in-depth look at the United Kingdom’s drone laws, refer to the CAA’s website.

Drone Laws in Ireland

Flying a drone is legal in Ireland, and drone laws don’t differentiate between recreational and commercial drones. But to prevent flying afoul of the law, you want to take note of the following drone regulations:

  • If your drone weighs over 1kg (2.2 pounds) and you wish to fly it at a height beyond 15 meters, you must register the drone first. You can register your drone on the Irish Aviation Authority’s website.
  • The same drone laws apply to recreational and commercial drone pilots in Ireland. There are no special licenses or permits that are required for commercial operations.
  • Registered drones may not be flown at a height beyond 120 meters (394 feet).
  • Registered drones may not weight more than 25 kilograms (55 pounds).
  • Drone pilots must fly their drones within their direct lines of sight at all times and may not fly their drones more than 300 meters away from them (984 feet).
  • You may not fly your drone within 1 kilometer of any airport.
  • You may not fly your drone within 30 meters (98.4 feet) of people, crowds, vehicles, or buildings.
  • While drone insurance is recommended by the IAA, it is not legally required to get one before flying your drone.
  • You cannot fly your drone over national monuments.

Again, these laws in Ireland are subject to change as the drone space speeds up. They are also provided here with the understanding that we are not drone regulators ourselves or drone lawyers. Provided for education purposes only. Not legal advice.

For more information on drone regulations in Ireland, check out this section of the IAA’s website.

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