Current UK drone law is very relaxed, particularly if you want to fly your drone only for personal and leisure use – and there is currently no competency licence needed.
However, you should make sure that you fly your drone safely, away from densely populated areas and large buildings, and that it does not get too close to any structures or people nearby.
As long as you are more than 50 metres from the nearest building, outside of congested areas and too low to interfere with commercial aircraft, there is a good chance that under the Air Navigation Order, you won’t need any special permissions (although you should always check if you are not sure).
For now, non-commercial leisure use of drones should just comply with the ‘Drone Code’, which includes six simple rules:
This last point is a major safety concern, and interfering with a manned aircraft flight in a way that endangers its pilot, crew or passengers carries a criminal conviction and a potential five-year prison sentence.
With an increasing number of drones taking to the skies – and especially huge growth in their popularity among leisure users – the government is currently responding to concerns that more inexperienced operators may be launching drones in unsafe areas, or flying them in unsafe ways.
A consultation launched by the government in December 2016 closed on the morning of March 15th 2017 and puts forward several suggestions regarding competency and ‘licensing’.
The consultation notes that in the USA and Ireland, registration schemes for commercial and leisure drone operators cover all but the very smallest of drones – 250g in the USA, where 98% of registrants are leisure users, and 1kg in Ireland.
As the EU is already considering mandatory registration for all drones over 250g, the current UK consultation suggests introducing this too, compared with the current rules that require registration only for drones of 20kg or more.
The consultation also suggests a situational awareness test – similar to the hazard perception element of the car driving test – in recognition of the fact that many people will never have flown an aerial vehicle before operating their first drone.
Significantly, the consultation says any new registration rules should be introduced sooner rather than later, before the number of drones already in operation gets too large, and at an expected cost of between £5 and about £30 per user.
If the registration requirement is introduced, it will not officially be considered a ‘drone licence’ as the term ‘licence’ only applies if there is a medical assessment made of the pilot – and this is currently not likely to be introduced.
Other than that, the results of the consultation are expected to broadly support the prompt creation of a drone user registry covering commercial and leisure use of all drones weighing 250g or more.
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