The New Drone Rules Explained

From 31 December 2020, the new rules and regulations surrounding the safe flying of drones will be the same in the UK and all European Union Member States.
The first and most common misconception is that these new rules will apply to flying indoors and when flying a toy drone. This is not the case, although the drone must have been sold as, and clearly look like, a toy.
The rules WILL, however, be relevant to the risk of the flight – where you fly, proximity to other people and the size and weight of your drone.
If your drone flight conforms to the criteria above, you will be using the new ‘Open Category’ of rules, which are intended for low-risk drone flights (For example because you are flying a lightweight drone or in the countryside).
There is also a ‘Specific Category’ for higher risk flights, such as flying a drone over an urban area.
To fly in the ‘Specific Category’ you will need approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The same rules will also apply for night flying.
Open category
Open category explained –
Most enthusiasts or people flying for fun with a drone under 25kg will be in the Open category. You need to follow the drone and model aircraft code. Some of the key rules are:
  • Never fly higher than 120m / 400ft
  • Always keep the drone in visual line of sight
  • Keep clear of any airspace restrictions, including around airfields, unless you have permission to fly within them
These rules will also apply to night flying.
There are three ‘subcategories' based on the weight of the drone:
A1 (C0 or C1 marked drones): You may fly over people with your drone if it is less than 250g, as long as it is not a crowd. Some slightly heavier drones (up to 900g) can also be used, but only if they have been ‘classed’ as being suitable.
A2: You must keep some distance from people, normally 30m. But this depends, among other things, on the drone you are flying (weight or label). To fly in the A2 category as well as passing the normal flyer ID online test you must also pass the A2 CofC theory exam. You must also declare that you have gained some practical knowledge with your drone, but you do not have to take a practical exam.
A3: You must stay at least 150 metres horizontally away from parks, industrial and built-up areas and 50 metres horizontally away from people.
Drone classification
From 1 January 2023 new drones will have to meet a set of product standards. These will be classed from C0 to C4, based on the weight and capability of the drone, and will determine how and where you can fly.
Drones classed C0 or C1 can be flown in the open A1 subcategory. For C2 it’s open subcategory A2 or A3 and for classes C3 and C4 you can only fly in the A3 subcategory.
If your drone doesn’t have a class marking and is under 250g you can fly in the A1 subcategory (there are also some exceptions for drones up to 500g too until January 2023). Drones less than 2kg can be flown in subcategory A2, but you must keep at least 50 metres away from people and pass the A2 theory exam. Drones of 2kg or greater may only be flown in the A3 subcategory.
After 1 January 2023 for drones below 250g, you can continue to use the A1 subcategory. All other current (un-classified) drones must only be used in the A3 subcategory.
Home-built drones weighing less than 250g and with a maximum speed of less than 42mph (68Km/h, 19m/s) can be flown in the A1 subcategory. All other drones fit in the A3 subcategory.
First Person View (FPV)
If you are flying using FPV then you must have an observer next to you who can aid you with avoiding collisions, but you are still responsible for the safety of your flight.
Flying as a hobby and at a club
Members of a recognised UK model flying Association (BMFA, SAA, LMA & FPVUK) will be operating under the terms of a specific authorisation and should confirm details with their Association.
Registration and flyer ID
If your drone has a camera (unless it is a toy) or weighs 250g or more, you will need to register it with the CAA. This is something you will need to renew every year.
Anyone registering a drone that weighs 250g or more will need to pass a test and get a flyer ID from the CAA.
If you already have a flyer ID that is still valid, you don’t need to re-do the test until it expires, however, you are still required to keep up to date with the new regulations.
Minimum age to fly
In most cases, you must be at least 12 years old to fly a drone on your own. You are still able to fly if you are under 12, but this requires the supervision of someone aged 16 or over and both of you must have passed the flyer ID test.
To ensure safety when sharing airspace, the CAA has set out some simple laws that drone users need to follow.
Using your drone for work
With the new rules and regulations, there will no longer be a distinction between flying commercially and flying for pleasure or recreation.
This means that approval just to operate commercially is no longer required. If you are flying as part of a business then you should carefully read www.caa.co.uk/CAP722.
Due to the rules on proximity to people and overflight of congested areas in most cases, if you have an existing operator authorisation from the CAA, you will still require one under the new regulations.

Flying drones in the countryside
If you are flying well away from built-up areas and groups of people with a drone under 25kg then from 31 December 2020 you will fly under the new Open category of regulations.
That means that you need to follow the drone and model aircraft code. Some of the key rules are:
  • Never fly higher than 120m / 400ft
  • Always keep the drone in visual line of sight
  • Keep clear of any airspace restrictions, including around aerodromes, unless you have permission to fly within them
  • Keep 50m away from people, to avoid endangering them
All of the rules also apply if you are flying at night.
Minimum age to fly
In most cases, you must be at least 12 years old to fly a drone on your own*.
You can fly if you are under 12, but you must be supervised by someone 16 or over and both of you must have passed the flyer ID test.
Flying in towns and cities or busy areas
If you are flying over or near urban areas or near groups of people, then extra safety rules are in place to provide protection. The rules don’t apply if you are flying indoors.
  • Never fly higher than 120m / 400ft
  • Always keep the drone in sight
  • Keep clear of airspace restrictions, including around aerodromes, unless you have permission to fly within them
  • keep 50m away from uninvolved people, to avoid endangering them
  • In most cases, unless flying a drone that is less than 250g, you must keep at least 150 metres horizontally away from parks, industrial, residential and built-up areas
All of the rules also apply if you are flying at night.
If your drone weighs less than 250g then you may overfly a small number of people for a short period of time. But, if you have a heavier drone, or want to fly near or over people for longer periods then it’s most likely you will fall into the Specific category of regulations and may well need special approval from the Civil Aviation Authority. This may allow you to fly in congested areas and closer to people.


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Henry Greenshields

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