Drone laws are confusing. But what, if any licenses, qualifications, registrations, and insurance do you need to fly a drone under 250g? Read on to find out more.
There was a time when drone regulation was far more relaxed. There were fewer rules on separation distances, even around sensitive areas like airports and prisons. Several commotions, disruptions, and disturbances later, including close calls with aircraft, drones being used to ferry contraband into prisons, and various national security risks and the UK authority on airspace – the Civil Aviation Authority, or CAA, now closely monitors and legislates matters relating to the use of drones to protect other airspace users, people, and property.
This has made flying a drone, whether for hobby or commercial purposes, more difficult. A few years ago, however, the CAA, recognising that in the course of restricting the nefarious use of drones had made responsible drone flying increasingly difficult legislated that any drone (with a camera) weighing under 250g, such as the popular DJI Mavic Mini series, is considered low risk, and therefore not subject to quite the same level of regulation as heavier drones – phew!
So where, when, and how can you fly a drone under 250g?
The main point of difference between a drone under 250g and one over 250g is in separation distances from people and built-up areas. While you still need to abide by, and understand restrictions set in place around UK airspace and certain landowners (more on that below) owning a drone under 250g ensures that you can legally fly in more places than with a drone weighing over 250g.
Understanding UK Airspace
UK airspace is divided up into 5 classes. classes A, C, D, and E are areas of controlled airspace, and G is uncontrolled airspace. Owners and flyers of drones under 250g should make themselves aware of these airspace classes, and what they mean for legally flying your drone. If unsure, class G airspace is uncontrolled, and is therefore the best place to start looking for safe flying spots. Apps such as Altitude Angel’s Drone Assist are indispensable tools for knowing where you can safely and legally fly your drone. These mostly free apps enable you to pinpoint your location, or search for any other location in the UK and get a visual representation of any restrictions on a flight within that area. Areas circled in red should generally be avoided as most will require permission to fly. These can include airports, military bases, prisons, and nuclear power stations.
Byelaws, SSSI's, Animals and Wildlife
Generally speaking if the land has a particular designation, such as a National Park, National Trust property, or SSSI you should be weary of taking off or landing from there. We recommend you seek further information and clarity from the relevant land owners/custodians in these cases.
Types of land that could have restrictions on drone take off and landing could include (but are not limited to);
- National Trust
- National Parks
- RSPB Estates
- Crown Land
Visual Line of Sight and distances
Any drone flying within the UK, whether under 250g or over must remain within Visual Line of Sight of the pilot flying it. In practice, this means that you must be able to see your drone at all times.
You are not permitted to fly a drone more than 400 ft or 120m above the surface. This applies to both hobbyists and commercial drone operators, although some operators hold Operational Safety Cases which allow for increased flying heights and distances. DJI drones allow you to set maximum flight altitude and distance within the app, we advise you to use this feature to ensure that you don’t needlessly break the law.
Separation distances simply refer to how close you can fly to uninvolved people and places. Uninvolved means people not directly under your control.
While hobby flights of drones over 250g must be kept at least 150m away from residential, recreational, commercial, and industrial areas (so pretty much everywhere!) drones under 250g can be flown in all of these places.
Drones under 250g can legally be flown in towns, cities, and industrial and commercial areas which is a boon for hobbyist and commercial drone pilots, but in addition to this, there is no specified separation distance from uninvolved people. Drones under 250g can also fly over people, but it’s always wise to minimise this where possible as it poses an increased risk. Regardless of your drone weight or the purpose of your flight, never overfly crowds.
Despite these decreased separation distances we urge drone pilots to avoid needlessly endangering people’s safety at all times. We see this as simply good practice and a basic precursor to owning and flying drones, in much the same way as with a car, a push bike, or a scooter. Essentially in terms of flights with drones under 250g, common sense, and civility should prevail.
If your drone weighs under 250g, but has a camera, you are required by law to register with the CAA. This is done by applying for an Operator ID. If you are under 18 you will have to get your parent or guardian to register for an operator ID and you will fly the drone under a flyer ID. The operator ID currently costs £10 and has to be renewed on an annual basis. The flyer ID cost nothing and is valid for up to 5 years.
Operators of drones weighing less than 250g do not require insurance for Hobby flights. if you wish to operate a drone under 250g for commercial purposes, defined as any use where you will get a financial payment, you are required to hold drone-specific third-party insurance. Popular providers of drone-specific insurance include Cover Drone and Moonrock.
- Flyers of all drones need to be aware of UK airspace and where they can and cannot legally fly their drone. this information can easily be obtained from free apps and websites.
- You do not need a license to fly a drone under 250g, but you will need to register for an operator ID if the drone is equipped with a camera.
- If you are under 18 you will need to get a parent or Guardian to sign up for an operator ID and you will be able to fly under a flyer ID.
- If you are flying a drone under 250g commercially, you will need third-party, drone-specific liability insurance.
- Drones under 250g can be flown in residential, recreational, commercial, and industrial areas provided that area is within an allowed airspace and there are no local byelaws precluding the use of drones.
- Drones under 250g can be flown close to and over people but not crowds.
- All drones, regardless of weight have a maximum legally allowed flying height above the surface of 400 feet, or 120m.
- All drones, regardless of weight need to be kept within Visual Line of Sight of the pilot at all times.