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UK regulations for using drones part 1

The regulations for operating unmanned aircraft systems in the United Kingdom.
A person preparing to operate a drone
© The Institute for Drone Technology

Drone regulations in the UK

In the UK and the EU the most common terms for a drone is an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) and this is the abbreviation most often used in regulations. While the regulation of drones comes under the Civil Aviation Authority, from December 31st 2020 the UK will adopt much of the EU’s regulatory framework, with some important exceptions.

The European Union Aviation Safety Authority (EASA)

The European Union Aviation Safety Authority has created regulations around the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). The regulations have been adopted by the UK for implementation from the 31st of December, 2020. The regulations are contained in the CAP 1789 – The EU UAS Regulation Package.

The regulations do away with the commercial / non-commercial drone operations separation and instead focus on the type of drone you use and where you operate it. There will be no more PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) instead this is replaced with Operational Authorisation.

Online registration of any drone above 250 grams will be required. Upon registration an Operator’s ID will be issued and this must be attached to the drone. Even if you are not the owner of the drone, but will be operating it, you still need to complete the online training and assessment and obtain a Flyer’s ID.

The regulations are designed to follow from three basic concepts. They are:

*Operation centric – the focus is on the type of operation being conducted, rather than who or what is conducting it, or why it is being done. Because there is ‘no one on board’ the aircraft, the consequences of an incident or accident are purely dependent on where that incident/accident takes place.

*Risk based – the focus is on the risk that the operation presents, and so more effort or proof is required where the risk is greater. One outcome of this is that there will no longer be a requirement to hold an operational authorisation purely on the basis that an unmanned aircraft is being flown for commercial purposes – there is no distinction between commercial, leisure or other ’non-commercial/non-leisure’ purposes; it is the risk of the operation that is the deciding factor.

*Performance based – the primary requirements are aimed at identifying the required capabilities, or performance levels, rather than creating a set of prescriptive rules”

Source p4 CAP 1789 – The EU UAS Regulation Package – Outline

drone in sky background

Following on from this approach, UAS operations are understood in three categories. They are: “*Open category – operations that present a low (or no) risk to third parties. Operations are conducted in accordance with basic and pre-defined characteristics and are not subject to any further authorisation requirements.

*Specific category – operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open category. Operations will require an operational authorisation from the CAA [relevant aviation authority], based on a safety risk assessment.

*Certified category – operations that present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation and so will be subjected to the same regulatory regime (i.e. certification of the aircraft, certification of the operator, licensing of the pilot)” Source p5 CAP 1789 – The EU UAS Regulation Package – Outline

The Open category is for operations that fit within these operating conditions: 1. The maximum take off mass of the UAS is less that 25kg.

  1. The UAS must be operated within visual line of sight (VLOS).

  2. The UAS is not flown higher than 120 metres (400 feet) from the closest point of the surface of the earth.

If a proposed flight operation does not fit within these conditions, then is must be considered a Specific category, or a Certified category of flight operations.

The Open category is also divided into three types of operation, these are to do largely with the operation of UAS in proximity to people. They are:

A1. Fly ‘over’ people. These operations can only be conducted using UAS that do not pose any risk of harm to people because of their very light weight (less than 250g), their type of construction, or if they are a ‘toy’ – that is, they are inherently ‘harmless’. Even so, in this type of operation, flying over assemblies of people is not permitted. In order to allow manufacturers time to comply with the product specification and gain approval for the UAS, until 1st of January 2023 UAS that weigh less that 500g can be used in this category subject to operators meeting competency standards.

A2. Fly ‘close to’ people. In this type of operation an UAS must be less than 4kg and flown a minimum of 30 metres from people, or 5 metres if the flight is horizontal and the UAS has a slow speed mode active. The UAS must also meet product specifications, and the operator must have completed designated training. In order to allow manufacturers time to comply with the product specification and gain approval for the UAS, until 1st of January 2023 UAS that weigh less that 2kg can be flown to a horizontal distance of 50 metres from people subject to operators meeting competency standards.

A3. Fly ‘far from’ people. This is a flight operation where the flight area is clear of uninvolved people, and is not an area used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.

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