So, you’ve bought a drone, or you’re thinking of purchasing one.
Among the key considerations is how to fly legally and safely in the UK.
This guide to UK drone regulations and registration will help you understand if you need drone training or not.
The article reflects the changes to drone rules which came into force in the UK and throughout Europe on December 31, 2020. It has also been updated following an announcement by the UK CAA/DfT in November 2022, relating to the extension of the Transitional Period, and the UK's stance on EU drone markings.
UK Drone Laws: At A Glance
Here are some key points to know, before reading about the rules in more depth.
- Three operational categories: Open (geared to hobbyists/some commercial users); Specific (mainly enterprise drone pilots); Certified (very high-risk operations).
- Open Category divided into subcategories: A1 (fly over people); A2 (fly close to people); A3 (fly far from people). Certain drones can fly under the rules of certain subcategories.
- New drone classes (C0-C4) introduced, based on weight and other factors.
- UK CAA has said that European Union (EU) class marks on drones will not be recognised in the UK after 1 January 2023.
- A Transitional Period has been extended to 1 January 2026. This allows current drones - with no class marking or a class marking which is not recognised in the UK - to continue to be flown in line with more relaxed rules, as part of the drone regulations.
- To operate in A2 subcategory, or A1 subcategory with an A1 Transitional aircraft, an A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC) is needed.
- Operations which can't be performed in the Open Category can be performed in the Specific Category. An Operational Authorisation - replacing the PfCO - is needed from the CAA.
- A General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC) is needed to apply for an Operational Authorisation.
- Valid PfCOs (as of December 31, 2020) will be brought into line with the Operational Authorisation.
- There is now no differentiation between 'leisure' and 'commercial' drone flights.
- In most cases, UK drone registration is required.
- This blog also details what UK drone operators need to do to fly in Europe.
UK Drone Laws: Where Can I Fly?
Where you can fly is dictated by the type of drone you have and the level of risk involved in the flight.
Therefore, drone flights will fall into one of three categories. These are:
- Open: Presents low risk to third parties. An authorisation from the CAA is not required.
- Specific: More complex operations or aspects of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open Category. Authorisation is required from the CAA.
- Certified: Very complex operations, presenting an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation. UK regulations relating to the Certified Category are still being developed and are not yet published. Until unique UAS regulations are available, the principles set out in the relevant manned aviation regulations for airworthiness, operations and licensing will be used as the basis for regulating the Certified Category.
The Open Category
Pilots flying by the rules of the Open Category will tend to be hobbyist/recreational flyers, as well as certain commercial pilots.
There are a number of basic requirements that all Open Category pilots must adhere to:
- The aircraft's maximum take-off mass must be less than 25kg;
- Keep the drone within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS);
- Do not fly higher than 400 ft (120 metres) from the earth's surface.
Operators needing to fly outside one or more of these conditions will be required to seek permission to fly in the Specific Category.
However, the 400ft rule can be exceeded when a drone is required to overfly obstacles taller than 105m, provided that:
- The obstacle is overflown by a maximum of 15m;
- You have permission from whoever is in charge of the obstacle;
- You must stay within 50m horizontally of the obstacle.
The Open Category - Subcategories A1 - A3
The Open Category is further divided into three subcategories, stipulating where, what and how you can fly:
A1 Subcategory - Fly Over People
This category is for drones which pose the least risk, due to their weight and other factors.
Drones such as the DJI Mavic Mini, Mini 2, and Mini 3 Pro can be operated in this subcategory.
- No flights within restricted airspace (Restricted Areas, Danger Areas, FRZs) without relevant permission.
- Flight permitted within residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas.
Separation from uninvolved people
- Class C0 drones and drones with sub-250g flying weight (such as Mini 3 Pro, Mini 2 and Mavic Mini): No flight over assemblies of people.
Class C1 drones and A1 Transitional drones (less than 500g, such as DJI Mavic Air and Spark):
No intentional flight over uninvolved persons.
A2 Subcategory - Fly Near To People
This subcategory enables drones which are C2 rated (these drones will weigh up to 4kg) to fly up to 30 metres horizontally from people, or even closer in low-speed mode.
A2 Transitional drones - ie drones which are currently on the market but not class-marked - weighing up to 2kg can fly up to 50m horizontally from people.
Drones such as the DJI Mavic 2 Series, Mavic 3 Series, Mavic 3 Enterprise Series, the Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S, and Phantom 4 Series can be flown in this subcategory.
However, all pilots must have an A2 CofC to fly in the A2 subcategory.
- No flights within restricted airspace (Restricted Areas, Danger Areas, FRZs) without relevant permission.
- Flights allowed within residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas.
Separation from uninvolved people
- Class C2 drone: No closer than 30m horizontally. If ‘low-speed mode’ is activated – employ 1:1 rule, but never closer than 5m horizontally.
A2 Transitional aircraft (2kg max, such as DJI Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom, Mavic Air 2, Air 2S, Mavic 3 Series,
Phantom 4 Series): No closer than 50m horizontally.
A3 Subcategory - Fly Far From People
This subcategory involves flights far away from people.
It is for larger aircraft and for pilots who have an A1 Transitional or A2 subcategory aircraft, but have not obtained an A2 CofC.
Drones such as the DJI M300 RTK, M30 Series, M200 Series, and Inspire 2, would need to be flown in this subcategory. Although, in most cases, pilots of these drones would likely fly in the Specific Category with an Operational Authorisation.
- No flights within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas.
- No flights within restricted airspace (Restricted Areas, Danger Areas, FRZs) without relevant permission.
Separation from uninvolved people
- No uninvolved persons to be present within the area of the flight.
- No closer than 50m horizontally at any time.
- Employ 1:1 rule when reacting to unexpected issues.
Drone Classes And The Transitional Period
Under the new drone laws, a class classification system has been introduced.
Drones will receive a class marking (C0-C4), based on certain criteria, such as weight, speed, and safety features.
This class identification will then determine which subcategory of the Open Category the drone can be flown in.
In a nutshell:
- Class C0: May be flown in all subcategories.
- Class C1: May be flown in all subcategories.
- Class C2: May only be flown in subcategories A2 (with an A2 CofC) or A3.
- Class C3: May be flown in subcategory A3 only.
- Class C4: May be flown in subcategory A3 only
The UK CAA has said that from January 1, 2023, drones with an EU class mark will not be recognised in the UK, meaning they will need to be flown under Transitional provisions.
A statement from the UK CAA, released in November 2022, said: "The DfT will also be changing UK regulations so that European Union (EU) class marks on drones will not be recognised in the UK after 1 January 2023. Drones with EU class marks will still be able to be flown in the UK after that date in the Open and Specific categories but may not make use of the class mark provisions in the A1, A2 and A3 subcategory."
As part of this, the Transitional period has been extended. It was due to finish at the end of 2022, but it has been extended to January 1, 2026.
It means that current drones with no class mark (or a class mark not recognised in the UK) can be operated in accordance with Transitional provisions. The extension means that current drones can be used in this way for longer.
The table below shows which subcategory each DJI drone currently falls in to. This is based on none of these drones
having class markings (including those whose EU class marking will not be recognised by the UK CAA).
|Flying Weight||DJI Drone Type||Maximum Flight Height||Flights Over People||A2 CofC Required?|
|A1||< 250g||Mavic Mini, DJI Mini 2||120m||Over individuals but not crowds||No|
|A1 Transitional||250g - 499g||Mavic Air, Spark||120m||Not over uninvolved people or crowds||Yes|
|A2 Transitional||500g -< 2kg||Mavic Pro, Mavic 2 Series; Mavic 3 Series; Mavic 3 Enterprise Series; Mavic Air 2; Air 2S; Phantom 4 Series; Phantom 3 Series.||120m||Minimum distance of 50m horizontally||Yes|
|A3 Transitional||<25kg||Inspire Series; Matrice Series; M30 Series.
A1 Transitional & A2 Transitional where pilots do not hold an A2 CofC.
|120m||Minimum distance of 150m horizontally||No|
From January 1, 2026, DJI drones without drone class identification labels can only be operated in the Open Limited Category A1 (if they weigh below 250g) or A3 (between 250g and 25kg), and in the Specific Category with an Operational Authorisation.
Whether DJI will be able to retrospectively class mark its range of drones remains to be seen.
Drone Class Markings Vs UKCA Mark
Please note that some drones have a UKCA mark. This is a post-Brexit UK Conformity Assessed mark, which is now required for goods and products being placed on the market in Great Britain and currently covers most goods which previously required the CE marking, known as ‘new approach’ goods.
Therefore, this mark is different to the C0-C4 drone class marks which relate to which subcategory a drone can be flown.
Open Category - What Training Is Required?
Pilots wanting to operate in the A2 subcategory, as well as the A1 subcategory with an A1 Transitional drone need to obtain an A2 CofC, known as an A2 Certificate of Competency.
This course can be completed with heliguy™, through our online training platform, followed by a theory test, which can be sat remotely.
Candidates do not need to complete an Operations Manual or pass a Practical Flight Test, but a period of practical flight training (either with heliguy™ or under self-monitored circumstances) is required.
An A2 CofC is valid for five years.
You can find out more about the A2 CofC here.
The information below highlights what level of competency is required for each Open Category subcategory.
A1 Subcategory - Training
- Class C0 and drones less than 250g flying weight: Read the drone's user manual. DMARES (Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service) online learning and test to get a Flyer ID is recommended to promote safe flying.
- Class C1: Complete the DMARES (Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service) online learning and obtain a Flyer ID by sitting the free DMARES exam.
- A1 Transitional: Complete the DMARES (Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service) online learning and obtain a Flyer ID by sitting the free DMARES exam; and obtain an A2 CofC.
A2 Subcategory - Training
- Complete the DMARES online learning and obtain a Flyer ID; and obtain an A2 CofC.
A3 Subcategory - Training
- Complete the DMARES (Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service) online learning and obtain a Flyer ID by sitting the free DMARES exam.
Open Category - How Old Can I Be To Fly?
At the start of February 2021, the Department for Transport removed the minimum age requirement for remote pilots, meaning that children below the age of 14 can operate as remote pilots in the Open Category.
Rules For Members Of Flying Associations
The CAA has issued an Authorisation (Model Aircraft Article 16 Authorisation) to flying associations to enable different and more flexible operation requirements for operators flying drones up to 25kg.
This applies to members of the British Model Flying Association (BMFA), Scottish Aeromodellers Association (SAA), Large Model Association (LMA), and FPV UK.
Aircraft with a maximum take-off mass (the weight of the aircraft when it becomes airborne) of more than 25kg will be subject to a separate Authorisation held by the Large Model Association.
While the Open Category rules can be used by anyone in the UK, these requirements will not apply to Association members flying in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Article 16 Authorisation.
Click to read the Authorisation in full, or use the drop-down boxes below for an at-a-glance guide.
As mentioned previously, the Specific Category covers 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.
In simple terms, the Specific Category is geared towards enterprise drone pilots.
The key element of the Specific Category is that the UAS operator is required to hold an Operational Authorisation, which has been issued by the CAA.
An Operational Authorisation has replaced the PfCO.
The Operational Authorisation sets out the privileges that are afforded and the limitations that must be followed when conducting the operation.
To obtain an Operational Authorisation, the operator must conduct a risk assessment of the proposed operation and submit this as part of the application.
Pre-Defined Risk Assessments
Alternatively, operators can use a PDRA (Pre-defined Risk Assessment).
This is a shortened set of prescriptive conditions - conducted by the CAA - that must be complied with by a UAS operator in order to conduct a predetermined type of operation.
This type of approach applies to operations that will most likely be conducted by a large number of operators (i.e. it is a pre-defined scenario), but the safety mitigations are relatively simple.
Operating Safety Case
Some missions will require an Operating Safety Case (OSC), which enables operators to fly outside the confines of a Standard Permission, like an Operational Authorisation, in the Specific Category.
An OSC is required for numerous operational procedures, such as:
- Flying less than 50m from uninvolved people.
- Flying less than 50m from uninvolved buildings / property.
- Flying less than 50m horizontally of crowds of people.
- Flying more than 400ft in altitude.
- Conducting EVLOS missions with multiple pilots.
- Flying beyond visual line of site (BVLOS)
An OSC is a complex, three-volume operations manual that is submitted to the CAA.
heliguy™ has launched an OSC Consultancy to help operators complete an OSC application. To find out more, click here.
Specific Category - What Training Is Required?
The GVC (General Visual Line of Sight Certificate) is a remote pilot competency certificate which has been introduced as a one stop qualification that satisfies the remote pilot competency requirements for VLOS operations within the Specific Category.
The GVC satisfies the competency requirements of any published PDRA that involves VLOS flight.
The GVC can be completed with heliguy™, by completing an online theory course and passing an exam.
As well as the theory test, candidates also need to complete an Operations Manual and pass a Practical Flight Assessment.
The GVC is valid for five years.
You can learn more about the GVC here.
What If I Have A Valid PfCO?
Valid PfCOs will be amended to bring them into line with the Operational Authorisation.
This means that a valid PfCO did not become null and void on December 31, 2020.
Rather, the terms of the operating conditions will be amended to align with the Operational Authorisation. This will ensure that all relevant UAS operators hold the same privileges.
It is applicable until the expiry date of a remote pilot’s PfCO/standard permission.
Once a renewal application is submitted, the applicant will receive an Operational Authorisation and individuals with NQE qualifications may continue to renew that Operational Authorisation until January 1, 2024, before which, they’ll be required to undertake the PfCO to GVC Conversion course.
Operators with a current and valid PfCO must ensure they have a valid Flyer ID, obtained as part of the CAA’s drone registration service.
You can read more about it, here.
Specific Category - How Old Can I Be To Fly?
At the start of February 2021, the Department for Transport removed the minimum age requirement for remote pilots, meaning that children below the age of 14 can operate as remote pilots in the Specific Category.
Drone Laws - Is FPV Flying Legal In The UK?
FPV drone flying and the use of goggles is legal in the UK.
FPV flights are permitted within the Open and Specific categories, subject to certain criteria being met.
A key aspect is that FPV pilots can fly without keeping direct eye contact with the drone – provided they are accompanied by a unmanned aircraft observer who keeps direct visual contact with the drone.
The UA observer must be located alongside the pilot so they can immediately communicate with the pilot.
Association members of drone and model aircraft clubs are afforded greater flexibilities for FPV flights and drone racing - courtesy of the Article 16 Operational Authorisation.
Click to find out more about FPV Drone Laws In The UK.
How About Follow Me Mode?
Follow-me mode is legal.
It can be used for flights, up to a maximum distance of 50m from the remote pilot, in the Open Category.
UK Drone Laws: What About Flying Near To Vehicles, Vessels, and Structures?
It is true that the regulations are focused on the safety of uninvolved people and there are no specific minimum distances set down for separation from ‘vehicles, vessels and structures’.
But, this does not imply a complete ‘free for all’ as vehicles, vessels and structures will in many cases still have persons inside them which need to be protected.
There are two points to take note of:
The current ‘endangerment’ regulation in the Air Navigation Order (article 241), still applies, and so it is an offence to ‘endanger’ such property with an unmanned aircraft.
The prescribed separation distances from uninvolved persons still apply to persons that are occupants of any vehicle, vessel or structure. So, you still have to apply the relevant limitations for separating from persons, unless you can be certain that they are unoccupied or, in the case of structures, you can be certain that the occupants will be protected because of how the structure has been manufactured.
Of course, the overall security and privacy situation must also be considered, as there will be a number of buildings where it would be inadvisable, from a security or privacy standpoint, to be flying close to without first obtaining permission to do so.
UK Drone Registration
It is important to know that you must register with the CAA before flying most drones outdoors in the UK.
There are two requirements and you may need to meet both:
- If you’ll fly, you must pass the DMARES theory test to get a flyer ID;
- If you’re responsible for a drone or model aircraft, you must register for an Operator ID and then label the
drones with this ID.
It is against the law to fly a drone or model aircraft without having the required IDs.
You can register here.
Drone Registration - Who Needs To Register?
In most cases, registration is required.
But, you do not need to register if you will only fly or use the following types of drone or model aircraft:
- Toys below 250g or in C0 class
- Those in C0 class with no camera, whether they are a toy or not
- Those below 250g with no camera and no class mark, whether they’re a toy or not
It is important though that pilots of these drones follow the DroneCode.
This table shows what is required, depending on your aircraft's weight, and other factors.
|Flyer ID||Operator ID|
|Below 250g - Toy||No||No|
|Below 250g - Not a toy - no camera||No||No|
|Below 250g - not a toy - with camera||No||Yes|
|250g and above||Yes||Yes|
This table shows which ID is needed once drones with class-mark identifications recognised by the UK CAA are released.
|Class||Flyer ID||Operator ID|
|C0 - Toy||No||No|
|C0 - Not a toy - no camera||No||No|
|C0 - not a toy - with camera||No||Yes|
However, the CAA has said that, where the law doesn't require pilots to obtain a Flyer ID, it is still strongly encouraged - as it is free and will provide an overview of the rules to promote safe and legal flying.
Click to find out more about the drone registration test.
Drone Registration - How Much Does It Cost?
The cost depends on whether you are obtaining a Flyer ID or an Operator ID.
|Flyer ID||Free||5 Years|
|Operator ID||£10 annually||1 Year|
Drone Registration - How Old Do I Have To Be?
Children under 13 must pass the test to get a flyer ID. They must register with their parent or guardian.
Children under 12 must be supervised when flying by someone aged 16 or over.
The only exceptions are when they fly either:
- a toy drone or model aircraft that is marked as C0 class
- a privately-built drone or model aircraft below 250g
If the drone or model aircraft requires a flyer ID, both the child and the person supervising them must have a flyer ID.
Meanwhile, you must be 18 or over to register for an operator ID. You can use the same operator ID for all your drones and model aircraft.
At the start of February 2021, the Department for Transport (DfT) removed the minimum age requirement for remote pilots, meaning that children below the age of 14 can operate as remote pilots in both the Open and Specific Categories.
UK Drone Operators Flying In Europe
So, you are a UK drone operator with an A2 CofC or GVC/Operational Authorisation, but you need to fly in Europe. Where do you stand?
Rules For UK Drone Operators Flying In EU Member States
Please note that the following information relates to flights within the EU or an EASA associate Member State
(Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).
UK operators must register with the Member State they wish to fly in.
Open Category Flights
A2 Subcategory: You need to obtain a new A2 CofC in the EU Member State you wish to fly. Once you have this, the European version of the A2 CofC will be valid in all other EU Member States and EASA associate Member States. For example, if you complete an A2 CofC for operations in Germany, you can then use this for flights in France, Italy, Spain etc.
A1 and A3 Subcategories: You can fly without drone training, as is the case in the UK. Please note that flights using A1 Transitional aircraft in the A1 subcategory will require an A2 CofC, so follow the process outlined above.
Specific Category Operations
If you have completed the UK GVC and have an Operational Authorisation, your next steps depend on the specific aviation authority of the EU Member State you wish to operate in.
Some will recognise the UK GVC/Operational Authorisation. In this case, you will need to amend your Operations Manual to recognise your operation in the specific Member State, such as changing your PDRA to a Standard Scenario.
However, some aviation authorities will require you to complete a separate GVC and apply for a new Operational Authorisation for operations in that Member State.
To understand your position, check with the relevant aviation authority ahead of your operations.
Rules For UK Drone Operators Flying In Non-EU Member States
UK UAS Operators wishing to operate within any State other than one which is a member of the EU or EASA Associate
Member must comply with the requirements that are set out for UAS operations within that State.
In the first instance, operators should consult the guidance documentation that has been prepared by the relevant NAA.
Best Drone Apps And Websites To Keep You Flying Safely And Legally
There are numerous apps and websites available to help you fly safely and legally and check UK airspace.
Some of the key ones are:
Drone Assist: Drone safety app from NATS, with an interactive map of airspace used by commercial air traffic.
NATS Drone Website: Provides a wealth of information about flying your drone. Click here for more details.
Flight Planning Map: Up to date NOTAMS (notice to airmen) plotted on a map. Click here for more details.
AirMap: Real-time feedback of airspace rules and conditions pertaining to your flight specifications. Click here for more details.
Coverdrone FlySafe: Coverdrone FlySafe is a free app designed to help drone pilots plan and conduct their drone flights quicker and safer than before. Click here for more details.
UAV Forecast: As a drone pilot, one of the key considerations is the weather. UAV Forecast is an incredibly useful source of information, telling you everything you need to know about whether or not it is safe to fly. Click here for more details.
Windy: Windy is another app which supplies drone pilots with useful information about weather conditions. Click here for more details.
Tesla Magnetic Field Recorder: The Tesla Magnetic Field Recorder helps you to detect and record magnetic fields. The compass in your drone uses magnetic fields, and if there’s magnetic activity at or near your location, you could have issues and your drone operation could be threatened. Click here for more details.
To find out more about some of these apps, and others in the industry, read our in-depth blog by clicking here.
UK Drone Laws: Other Things You Need To Know
There are other factors you need to be aware of before you fly your drone. These include:
Airports: Most airports and airfields have a flight restriction zone (FRZ). Never fly in this zone unless you have permission from the airport. The zone is in place to avoid any collisions with aircraft at or near the airport.
Restricted airspace: This includes areas around prisons, military bases, royal palaces, government sites and more.
Events: Flying may be temporarily banned in specific areas during some events, such as airshows or festivals. This is to keep everyone safe.
Emergency incidents: Temporary restrictions may be established at very short notice due to emergency incidents, such as road traffic accidents, fires and floods.
Byelaws: Byelaws may restrict when and where you can fly. Look out for local signs for information and contact details where you can find out more. Byelaws are unlikely to be shown on apps or drone websites.
Structures in the area: Check for any structures, such as cranes, masts and wires. Do not fly if there are structures in the area that will mean it’s not safe or legal.
Animals: Do not fly where you’ll disturb animals.
Report any dangerous incidents or near misses: If something dangerous happens while you’re flying your drone or model aircraft, you must report the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority. Click here.
Insurance: Insurance is optional if you’re flying for recreation. However, you should remember that you’re responsible for your actions, which means you could be held personally liable for any injury or damage you cause while you’re flying. If your flight is for any reason other than recreation, you do need insurance. EC785/2004 compliant insurance is still required for commercial operations in both the Open and Specific categories.
Make sure you are fit to fly: Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or if you are tired or unwell.
Weather: Make sure you check the weather beforehand and know if it could change during your drone flight.
UK Drone Laws: Drones And Privacy
When you are flying, ensure that you do not invade anyone’s privacy, especially if your drone has a camera.
The UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) recommends that users of drones with cameras should operate them in a responsible way to respect the privacy of others.
If your drone or model aircraft has a camera, any photos or video you take may be covered by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
If you take a video or photo of someone where they can expect privacy, such as inside their home or garden, you’re likely to be breaking data protection laws.
Some tips include:
Let people know before you start recording: If you are capturing an image or footage of friends or family, this will be easy. But in some cases, this won’t always be possible, so be sensible and apply common sense before you start.
Know your camera: Get to grips with your camera, because knowing its capabilities will help reduce the risk of privacy invasion. Some key questions include, what is the quality of the image? How powerful is the zoom? If you can start/stop recording when you’re flying.
Make sure you can be seen: The more visible you are then the easier it will be for other people to identify who is flying the drone.
Think before sharing: Be mindful of what images/videos you have captured and if the content is sensitive, unfair or harmful before you share them on social media or post on a website.
Keep the images and video safe: Store your content in a safe place and delete what you don’t need.