This is the third in our series of articles explaining more about the requirements drone pilots have to meet in order to fly both safely and legally.  Understanding some of these issues means that you’ll be better placed to understand when and how drones can offer benefit to you through aerial photography and videography.  This section looks at airspace and the role that it plays..

Drone Airspace Classifications

So the UK (and indeed the world but we’re going to keep to the UK here) are governed by internationally recognised airspace zones as defined and governed by the CAA – Civil Aviation Authority.  These are divided into categories with different levels of controls and access being applied to each and there are five that are currently recognised in the UK – A, C, D, E and G.

We’re not going to go into detail of all of these as they don’t all apply to drone flight but to give you an example, Category A airspace is the most tightly controlled and is primarily used by commercial airliners and business jets.  Pilots flying in this airspace are under the strict guidance of Air Traffic Control, pilots must be qualified to the relevant standard and aircraft must be appropriately equipped.

So, Category A airspace is not an area for drone flight but other airspace classifications do hold relevant when you are hiring a drone pilot.

Airspace Classifications

Airspace zones are defined vertically as well as on the ground and they look like funnels being wider at the top and narrower at the bottom.

The law recently changed to make it illegal for unauthorised drone flights to take place within 1km of an airport boundary with these boundaries being defined by the CAA.   Similarly there are tight restrictions on certain other areas, for example key locations in London.

Category D Airspace

The most common controlled airspace zone that will affect where a pilot is allowed to fly their UAV is category D.  If the flight involves this airspace, then the pilot must apply ahead of time for special permissions to fly if their drone is in the 7-20 kg category.  If your drone pilot is flying a drone that weighs under 7kg then these permissions aren’t necessary (the rules governing safe flight at all times still apply of course).  Your pilot will be able to advise you the crafts they have in their fleet and what they would plan on using.

Category G Airspace

Category G airspace is everything else that isn’t A,C, D, E and means that the air is uncontrolled formally and pilots can fly there without having to obtain any Air Traffic Control permissions. They still have to adhere to what is know as VFR (Visual Flight Rules) just like cars have to adhere to the Hightway Code, aviation has their own code called VFR.

And of course they will still have to adhere to all the relevant drone flight laws, keep their flight within sight and fly safely at all times.

What if I want to Hire a Drone Pilot to Fly in a Category D Airspace?

The fact that an airspace is more tightly controlled does not mean that drone flights are not allowed.  The pilot will need to apply to National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS) for permission and, although this isn’t a chargeable process, there may be a delay while the request is processed.  Your pilot will be able to show you the permission that they have received when their application has been successful if you’d like to see it.

Where areas are particularly sensitive, such as around an airport, the location will most likely be additionally protected by a “geofence”. This is a virtual barrier to drone flight that will actually physically prevent the drone from taking off inside the zone or flying into it.  Again, this doesn’t mean that drone flights in these areas are impossible but the pilot will have to contact the drone manufacturer in advance and get them to temporarily unlock the craft to allow it to fly inside the zone at an appointed date and time.  This doesn’t incur cost but it does mean that it is an extra set of paperwork and procedures that have to be completed and so extra time will need to be allowed in the flight planning stage.

How does this affect my Booking?

Airspace classifications are part of the reason why, when you look at booking a drone pilot, they will need full details of where they are being asked to fly.  They need to carry out their desk research to understand the airspace that they will be working with before they can provide you with a quote.  Where the airspace is restricted, the pilot may have to allow extra time to prepare for your flight by receiving the relevant permissions and unlocking the aircraft before they can arrange your flight.

Our DSR pilots are all trained professionals and so you can be sure that you’ll be in safe (and legal) hands whatever your airspace is


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About the Author: DSR Journalist

Harrison Green