10 Golden Rules Every Drone Pilot Should Know

10 Golden Rules Every Drone Pilot Should Know

When you fly a drone either as a hobbyist or commercially it is your responsibility to be aware of the rules and aviation laws that are in place to keep everyone safe.

Over the past decade drones have become increasingly more affordable and capable and remain great fun to fly, or operate as a business. As the industry continues to grow, so do the instances of ‘bad press’ surrounding drone ‘near misses’, which has resulted in the CAA taking a firmer stance on the PfCO process and awareness of drone safety. The penalties introduced are severe and ignorance of these rules is not an excuse.

Hummingbird UAV are the UK’s only combined Helicopter Pilot and Drone Pilot Training Academy. Our instructors are the most experienced flight instructors operating out of world-class facilities to provide you with everything you need to pass your drone training course.

Whether you are looking to purchase a drone for recreational use or to take advantage of the increasingly profitable commercial opportunities available to drone pilots with a PfCO drone licence. Here are our 10 golden rules every drone pilot should know based on our research and interpretation of the laws.

1) It is against the law to fly above 400ft (120m)

Drones can and do present a real hazard to manned aircraft pilots (including military and emergency services pilots) with over 100 near-miss incidents reported every year. To reduce the likelihood of a conflict with manned aircraft it is against the law to fly your drone over 400ft (120m) from the ground. So you must also take into account the terrain, i.e., any hills. The consequences for not following this rule are severe. Anyone caught flying a drone above 400ft or within 1 km of an airfield boundary, faces an unlimited fine or up to 5 years in prison.

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2) Always keep your drone in sight at all times

For as little as £100 you can buy an entry-level Quadcopter with camera and a flight range that takes it beyond the operator’s line of sight. You MUST always keep your drone in sight. This means you can see and avoid other airspace users and of course people and property.

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3) Follow manufacturers instructions

It’s common sense to ensure that before you fly your drone you read the Instruction manual and become familiar with how it operates and its limitations.

All drones have varying technical capabilities (altitude limits, transmission range, battery endurance, etc). Carefully read the manual to learn about the different features, limitations and technical specs of the drone that you will be operating and do not assume that your knowledge and proficiency in one make and model of drone will carry over to another.

Your drone may be more or less tolerant than other drones when it comes to radio interference from masts, adverse weather conditions, maximum battery endurance, maximum range and maximum endurance.

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4) Maintain a safe distance from property

Unless you have a PfCO you must always stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property and 500ft (150m) away from built-up (congested) areas and never over-fly them. Any images taken with a drone camera are also subject to privacy laws. If you have a PfCO then these limitations are partially reduced to 50m in a congested area, unless the remote pilot has people and or property ‘under their control’, in which case this limit is reduced even further.

Unless granted CAA permission (PfCO), a pilot who has a camera on their aircraft is not able to do the following:

  • Fly over or within 500ft (150m) of an organised open-air assembly where 1000+ people are in attendance;
  • Fly within 150ft (50m) of any vessel, vehicle or structure that’s not under the control of the pilot;
  • Take-off or land within 100ft (30m) of any person.
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5) You are legally responsible for each flight

You are responsible for each flight and legal responsibility lies with you. Failure to fly responsibly could result in criminal prosecution and therefore it is essential that you have drone insurance if you are using your drone commercially.

You must not endanger anyone, or any thing with your drone.

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6) Stay well away from airports and airfields

It is against the law to fly a drone within 1km of an airport/ airfield/ aerodrome boundary, unless you have a PfCO and have the correct permissions in place. Stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields. The consequences for failing to do so are severe. If your drone endangers the safety of an aircraft, it is a criminal offence and you could receive an unlimited fine and go to prison for five years.

Be aware of all no-fly zones both permanent (airports, airfields, nuclear sites, military bases) and non-permanent. Some non-permanent no-fly zones can be put in place for security reasons. These are subject to change and you should always thoroughly check for such restrictions in your flight area before flying.

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7) Be aware of your drone’s weight

If your aircraft exceeds 7kg in weight, inclusive of equipment etc, you must also comply with the following:

  • Not fly in Class A, C, D or E airspace without the air-traffic controller’s permission
  • Not fly in an aerodrome traffic zone within the hours of watch, unless the air-traffic controller’s permission is received.

Unmanned aircraft with an operating mass of more than 20kg must obtain a specific authorisation, in the form of an exemption from some of the requirements of the Air Navigation Order 2016, before any flight can take place in controlled airspace.

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8) Check the weather

Never fly unless you are satisfied the flight is safe to be made and continue to check the weather conditions throughout the day. Always fly in good meteorological conditions, during daytime or at night and within the wind limitations stated in the drones manufacturers handbook. Wind at the top of a ridge and within urban areas  is usually significantly stronger and unpredictable and can force your drone to fly outside of its limits. UAV Forecast is an online tool for UAV operators to check weather conditions which also includes alerts about local airports, with other potential risks being highlighted on the map.

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9) No person inside 30m

Make sure you have sufficient space on take-off and landing by giving yourself a safe zone of 30m in which no-one but the drone operator and people under his/her control are allowed inside.

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10) Always check the controls of the drone

Read your drone’s manual before take-off and adapt your flight to its stated performance level and use your pre-flight checklist.

We advise that drone pilots practice as often as possible and understand the modes available to them. You must ensure all systems are working before flight in order to avoid any surprises in-flight.

It’s very important check that you are feeling OK and are able to competently fly your drone. Medication, illness, fatigue, stress, emotions and alcohol can all negatively impact your ability to operate your drone safely. It is your responsibility to ensure that you and your drone are in the right condition and that there are no technical or medical reasons that may jeopardize the safe outcome of your flight.

A simple Summary

Our 10 golden rules are pretty solid but if you want a memorable way to remember the important stuff the CAA came up with a simple summary of the rules to follow when flying drones:

Don’t fly near airports or airfields.

Remember to stay below 400ft (120m).

Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property.

Never fly near aircraft.

Enjoy responsibly.

Travelling to the UK with a drone

If you intend to travel abroad then dont assume the rules elsewhere are the same as ours. Here is a website that will help you find out the national rules about flying drones in other countries – www.droneregulations.info/

If in doubt you must ask the National Aviation Authority of the country that you are visiting.

Travelling abroad with a drone

If you intend to travel abroad then dont assume the rules elsewhere are the same as ours. Here is a website that will help you find out the national rules about flying drones in other countries – www.droneregulations.info/

If in doubt you must ask the National Aviation Authority of the country that you are visiting.

Why fly a drone in the UK? To get great aerial shots like these!

Flying drones commercially

For those who wish to use drones commercially (get paid) and in a congested area, then permission is required from the CAA. You will need to attend an accredited course that will train you and assess your ability to safely operate drones. The courses include flying competence, knowledge of the law, risk assessments, decision making and more. They exist to ensure that those who wish to legitimately use drone technology in their business can do so safely and not expose the general public or other airspace users, to unnecessary danger.  Research shared by the CAA found that 77 per cent of the UK’s citizens felt more regulation was required in relation to drone usage, with 75 per cent of drone users in agreement. If you plan to join the $127 billion drone industry it is important that you are a responsible drone user as you will be under scrutiny from the public as well as the professional drone community.

Hummingbird UAV have helped students get their PfCO drone licence and start a new career, earning money flying drones confidently and safely.

Get properly trained

There is currently no legal requirement for any training if you plan to use your drone for recreational purposes (providing that the weight of the drone does not exceed 20kg) but you absolutely must comply with the drone code, aviation laws and other rules and regulations that apply to flying your drone.

If you are using a drone for personnel use then you are governed by the Civilian Aviation Authority (CAA) Air Navigation Order 2016, specifically Article 241 (endangering the safety of any person or property), Article  94 (small unmanned aircraft ) and Article  95 (small unmanned surveillance aircraft). This is the law and you can, and individuals have been, prosecuted for breaking it.

The UK Government has posted advice on its website for drone owners and operators, warning that quadcopters and other flying machines are subject to the law through the Air Navigation Order.

If you are planning on profiting from your drone, you must become an approved commercial drone operator. Hummingbird UAV offers the CAA PfCO course which will give you that permission. For more information on our CAA approved Drone Training or to book a course with Hummingbird UAV, click here or call us on 01302802221. Have fun and fly safe.

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