As drone technology has become more and more a part of everyday life, it has become increasingly clear that amendments have been required to the UK’s Air Navigation Order.
The law is never finished as the saying goes and must change to reflect the circumstances and sometimes, the events, of the day.
One such event that can be credited with heralding the first of two rounds of changes of SUA operators in 2019, is the shutdown of Gatwick airport in December 2018 by the apparent unauthorised drone activity. Whether you feel that the amendments are a kneejerk response to an event that is at best scarcely understood, or simply that the ‘incident’ has merely accelerated changes that the industry required, the fact is that significant changes for drone operators will come into force on March 13 2019.
2018 saw legislation change to introduce a 400ft flight height ceiling ‘to contribute to the safety of manned aircraft from the risk of collision with a small unmanned aircraft’, among other changes, it also saw a simplification of the laws regarding UAV weights.
The relevant Spring 2019 amendments start in Article 94 with the compete removal of paragraphs (4) and (4a). The new Articles 94A and 94B instead apply a simpler limit, relying instead on airspace categorisation instead of UAV size. The video released in 2018 showing the damage that can be caused to a manned aircraft by collision with even a small UAV seems to make this a sensible move.
It would be redundant to quote chapter and verse of the changes here, although there is a link at the bottom of this article to the CAA publication if you’d like to see the full details.
In essence however, Article 94A states that a SUA operator should never fly at a height of over 400ft under a standard Permission for Commercial Operations (and for these purposes, height is the distance above the ground) outside of a Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ). Inside a FRZ of a protected aerodrome, flights over 400ft may be possible if the ATC unit feel it is safe to do so.
Distances and heights may also be ammended under a CAA approved Operating Safety Case (OSC) such as the Drone Safe Register OSC, for more information on OSCs please read our article here – What does an OSC mean
However, the flight height issue is not where the ‘meat’ of the changes lies. Article 94B sets out significant changes to flight restrictions around protected aerodromes.
What is a Protected Aerodrome?
This group is made up from
- EASA Certified aerodromes (airports in common parlance)
- Government aerodromes (military airfields)
- National Licensed Aerodromes (general airfields in possession of a CAA licence)
There is a provision made for additional aerodromes to be nominated should the need arise but as yet, there are no locations currently planned so this simply seems to be a case of future proofing.
Flight Restriction Zones
The new amendment means that you are not able to fly a drone (even small toy craft) at any time within the boundaries of a Flight Restriction Zone around a protected aerodrome unless you have permission to do so.
The boundary of the FRZ has now been extended to 2-2.5nm from the centre point of the longest runway and up to 2000ft above the level of the aerodrome. There is also an additional runway protection zone that measures 5km by 1km wide extending from each runway threshold and again up to 2000ft in height. However, visualising this by dimension description alone can present a challenge. In addition to this, with provision being made for ‘additional boundary zones’ and some special exceptions such as Heathrow and the London Heliport, it is vital to rely on the FRZ map at Dronesafe for a complete and accurate picture.
Flying in a Restricted Zone
So the law effectively now extends the area within which a drone operator now has to seek permissions to fly within. However, these permissions remain obtainable from the relevant Air Traffic Control Unit(ATC) or Flight Information Service (FIS), but it appears likely that this will be covered under Non Standard Flight permissions put through the new NATS portal due to come online shortly. Operators should apply to the ATC or FIS until told otherwise in cases where there will be someone in the control tower during the flight or to the aerodrome operator where there is no ATC unit or the flight will be taking place outside of operational hours. In the second of these cases, there is no scope for a flight of over 400ft to be authorised.
Extra Paragraphs – Paving the Way
Paragraph 94C, D, E and F have been introduced paving the way for the second raft of legislation changes planned for October / November 2019 covering craft registration and pilot competency and certification. Drone Safe Register will of course be publishing more information on these changes and how they will affect UK and Ireland operators nearer to the time and as and when the CAA have finalised their plans.
It is certain that great changes are ahead for commercial drone operators and already pilots are reporting that they are facing challenges in obtaining flight permissions in a FRZ. With any legal changes, there is always an adjustment period while new processes and procedures bed in for all parties. However, with challenge comes opportunity and our qualified and legal pilots are well placed to face the future with Drone Safe Register supporting them all the way.