Controversial UK Drone Registration Fee Reduced

  • Proposed annual UK Drone Registration Fee cut from £16.50 to £9
  • Exemptions for some drone users means they won’t have to sit online competency test
  • Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service opens on November 5
  • New UK laws apply to anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg that are used outdoors

A controversial plan to charge UK drone users £16.50 a year has been reduced, following pressure from the industry.

In April, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) released a consultation document proposing the introduction of the annual fee for all drone operators whose aircraft weighed between 250 grams and 20 kilograms, to help cover the cost of the new Drone Registration Scheme.

It was also announced that those who signed up to the scheme would have to sit an online competency test – even members of model flying associations and operators/flyers who had already obtained CAA permission to fly.

These proposals proved contentious and a campaign was launched by industry insiders to try to force some kind of u-turn.

And it has worked! Earlier this week, the new terms and conditions of the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service – which opens on November 5 – were confirmed, and there was some good news.

Firstly, the annual fee has been reduced to £9.

Secondly, holders of current CAA permissions or exemptions for drone operations, and model flyers holding an achievement certificate issued by a UK model aircraft association with a CAA reviewed achievement scheme, will be exempt from sitting the test.

Thirdly, members of ARPAS-UK, British Model Flying Association (BMFA), Scottish Aeromodellers’ Association (SAA), Large Model Association (LMA) and FPV-UK will not need to register as an operator with the CAA system. With permission, the associations will collect the registration fee from members directly and supply their data to the CAA.

Read on to find out the views from the industry, as well as our guide to help you understand how the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service (aimed at anyone flying a drone or model aircraft weighing between 250g and 20kg) will impact you and when you need to register and how you do it.

Drone registration will be mandatory at the end of November.

Views From The Industry

The changes have been met with a positive reaction from industry representatives.

A statement on the website of FPV-UK – the UK association for radio control model and drone flying – read: ‘Until very recently the CAA’s price to register was £16.50, and association members would have had to register and do the CAA competency test like everyone else.

‘It is down to a combined and sustained effort by the UK model flying associations (including special advisers Cliff Whitaker, and Roger Hopkinson MBE) that we were able to secure the above concessions.

‘The (fairly new) Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, should be commended for his decisive input on this (it was absolutely crucial).

‘Special thanks go to David Phipps who represented all of the UK RC flying associations in the final negotiations after Grant Shapps got involved.’

A joint statement was also issued on the websites of ARPAS-UK and the BMFA.

It read: ‘ARPAS-UK and the BMFA have been working on behalf of their members, the other UK associations and the wider unmanned aircraft community to agree these changes with the Department for Transport (DfT) and the CAA since meeting the Secretary of State for Transport on the 9th September.’

David Phipps, BMFA CEO, said: “We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Transport for his direct intervention in this matter which has allowed us to negotiate a more acceptable outcome for our community, while enabling us to establish a much stronger relationship with the CAA and DfT in the process.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our members for their support of our campaign which was backed up by a significant number of MPs, the wider aviation community, the APPG for General Aviation and our special advisers (Cliff Whittaker and Roger Hopkinson MBE). It is very much a case of United we Achieve.”

Graham Brown, ARPAS-UK CEO, added: “I think David has covered the points very well and ARPAS would like to add our thanks to all involved and in particular to the Secretary of State for Transport for his intervention.”

However, while the news has prompted a positive reaction from association members, there is still some scepticism in other quarters. On the Facebook group, Drone Flyers UK, for example, some people believe that £9 is still too much for a hobby which has been free up until now, and others fear that the scheme will do little to deter rogue pilots.

Heliguy is awaiting comment from the CAA.

A Guide To The UK Drone And Model Aircraft Registration and Education Scheme

So, with the UK Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Scheme starting next month, what exactly do you need to know, and how do the new laws apply to you?

Heliguy has prepared a guide to help you fly legally and safely.

When Does The New UK Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Scheme Start?

The UK’s new Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Scheme will go live on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Please note that you cannot register before this date.

From November 5, the system will be available at Register-drones.caa.co.uk. The CAA has said that an offline service will also be available for people unable to register online

Registration is mandatory from Saturday, November 30, 2019.

The system to register opens on November 5.

What Do I Need To Do To Register?

The new regulations apply to drones and model aircraft from 250g to 20kg that are used outdoors

There will be two elements to the system.

Anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg will need to register as an operator. The cost for this will be £9 renewable annually.

When you register, you’ll get an operator ID with your certificate of registration. You must display your operator ID on your drones and model aircraft. You can use the same operator ID for all your drones and model aircraft.

Your operator ID must be:

  • Visible without needing a special tool to remove or open part of your aircraft;
  • Clear and in block capitals taller than 3mm;
  • Secure and safe from damage;
  • On the main body of the aircraft;
  • Easy to read when the aircraft is on the ground.

Anyone flying a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg will need to take and pass an online education package. This is free and renewable every three years.

What Do I Have To Do In The Online Test?

The online theory test relates to flying safely and legally.

It has 20 multiple choice questions and the pass mark is 16. You can take the test as many times as you need.

All of the knowledge needed to pass the test is in a new Drone and Model Aircraft Code.

When you pass the test, you’ll get a flyer ID, which acts as your acknowledgement of competency as a remote pilot from the CAA.

Minimum age: None, but children under 13 can only register with a parent or guardian present.
Registration period: 3 years.
Fee: Free.

You Also Need To Register As An Operator

You’ll also need to register as an operator if you’re responsible for a drone or model aircraft. The registration period is for one year and you must be aged 18 or over to be an operator.

An M200 Series drone pictured in the snow in Scotland.

When you register, you’ll get an operator ID with your certificate of registration. You must display your operator ID on your drones and model aircraft. You can use the same operator ID for all your drones and model aircraft.

There will be an annual fee of £9.

What Happens If I Don’t Register Or Sit The Test?

Users who fail to register or sit the competency tests could face fines of up to £1,000.

You could be fined if you don’t register your drone or sit the competency test.

But What About These Exemptions You Mentioned Previously?

Remote pilots flying in accordance with a permission, exemption or operational authorisation (e.g. such as the permission related to commercial operations as required in ANO article 94(5)) that has been issued to a named UAS operator by the CAA will be exempt from having to undertake the online education training and test.

Similarly, where a UK model aircraft association already has an established and CAA reviewed ‘competency scheme’, members who hold an appropriate achievement certificate or award (such as the BMFA ‘A’ certificate) will also be exempt from having to undertake the online education training and test.

Any operators who are not covered under the conditions of a permission/exemption or do not hold a recognised association competency will need to complete the free online course.

To allow operators to demonstrate competence if challenged (for example by the police) the CAA will be issuing a formal exemption that can be used alongside existing permissions / achievements and any other relevant documents. This exemption will be in place until June 30, 2020, when new regulations are expected. The CAA will be working with stakeholders in 2020 to put these into place.

Members of ARPAS-UK, British Model Flying Association (BMFA), Scottish Aeromodellers’ Association (SAA), Large Model Association (LMA) and FPV UK will not need to register as an operator with the CAA system if they are a current member of these associations.

With permission, the associations will collect the registration fee from members directly and supply their data to the CAA. This will take place initially by January 31, 2020, and an exemption from the need to register will be put in place by November 30 to cover association members until then.

The associations will issue further detailed guidance to their members in due course.

Exemptions apply to certain drone flyers.

I Fly Control Line Model Aircraft. Do The Laws Relate To Me?

The CAA will be issuing an exemption meaning those flying control line model aircraft will not need to comply with the registration or education regulations.

Now That I Am Registered, Is There Anything Else I Need To Be Aware Of When Flying My Drone In The UK?

Yes. When you fly a drone in the UK it is your responsibility to be aware of the rules that are in place to keep everyone safe. Follow the Drone Code to make sure you are flying safely and legally.

The Drone Code states:

  • 1: Always keep your drone in sight. This means you can see and avoid other things while flying.
  • 2: It’s against the law to fly your drone over 400ft (120m). This reduces the likelihood of a conflict with manned aircraft.
  • 3: Keep the right distance from people and property. People and properties – 150ft (50m); Crowds and built-up areas – 500ft (150m) and don’t overfly.
  • 4: You are responsible for each flight. Legal responsibility lies with you. Failure to fly responsibly could result in criminal prosecution
  • 5: Stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields when flying any drone. It is illegal to fly them inside the airport’s flight restriction zone without permission. If your drone endangers the safety of an aircraft it is a criminal offence and you could go to prison for five years. Click here for more details about flight restriction zones and distances.

Okay, So I Am Registered In The UK? Does This Mean That I Am Covered Outside Of The Uk?

No, it doesn’t. Your UK registration is not valid outside of the UK.

Please check with the relevant authority in their destination country for details of local requirements for flying drones and model aircraft.

What Is The Background To The Registration Scheme?

The new laws are being made via an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016.

In 2018, the UK Government decided to mandate a drone registration and education scheme in the UK to strengthen the accountability of drone users and their awareness of how to fly their drones safely.

This requirement is now established in UK law and followed a Government consultation on a range of drone policy proposals. A number of other countries worldwide already have or are developing a drone registration scheme.

There has been a significant increase in the number of commercial permissions issued by the CAA in the last year. The number of active commercial licences increased from 2,500 to 3,800 in 2017, a year on year growth of 52%.

A recently released PwC report highlighted that the uptake of drones could be worth up to £41.7 billion to the UK GDP by 2030.

Heliguy is a DJI Gold Partner, specialising in consumer and commerical/enterprise drones. To find out more, including how we can support, scale or start your drone programme, send us an email or give us a call.

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