Regulations relating to the commercial use of small drones

Small unmanned aircraft are now widely available for commercial use. More popularly known as drones, just like many other devices, they can cause injury or damage if they are not used responsibly and so are subject to specific safety rules relating to the way they are operated, which are underpinned by UK law.

The regulations are contained within the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO 2016) and there are some specific additional steps that must be taken if a drone is being flown for commercial operations.


small unmanned aircraft is defined as ‘any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight’.


commercial operation is defined as:
‘any operation of an aircraft other than for public transport;

  • which is available to the public
  • which, when not made available to the public, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator,

in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.’

The key elements in understanding this term are ‘…any operation of an aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’.

The term ‘available to the public’ should be interpreted as being a service or commodity that any member of the public can make use of, or actively choose to use, (e.g. because it has been advertised or offered to someone).

Examples showing how commercial operations are defined are available in our guidance for small drone operators.


congested area means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes’.

These rules have been established to provide a safe environment in which small drones can be flown without coming into conflict with manned aircraft and without risk to other people or properties.

You must have a Permission issued by the CAA before you conduct any commercial operations with your drone.


Indoor use – The regulations make no distinction between flights made indoors or in the open; the whole safety criteria continue to apply.  Certain hazard factors are heavily mitigated by the fact that the aircraft is flying in an enclosed environment and access to the venue can be controlled.  Persons within the building, and who may be exposed to a hazard by the flight, should meet the criteria for ‘persons under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft’ or else have safety precautions taken on their account (e.g. safety netting, tethered drone, etc).  Minor indoor recreational use of a very small and light ‘toy’ drones is not generally regarded as having the same safety implications as for larger drones used outdoors or in commercial service.

If you are a drone operator from overseas and want to carry out work in the UK, the CAA will normally be able to grant permissions to foreign operators, on the basis that you are able to satisfy the same basic safety requirements that are required for UK based operators.

This will depend on the evidence of ‘pilot competency’ that the applicant is able to provide and the location(s) where the flying is to take place. Please note that the approvals/qualifications from other nations are not ‘automatically’ accepted as being valid.  In order to fly in the UK, you must be in possession of a valid UK permission if the type of flight that you are conducting requires one.  Each application is considered on its own merits, but we will take the details of your own national approval/qualification into account when determining your application and the conditions that are set within the permission.

Applications should be made on the standard form SRG 1320 and information should also be supplied about the scope of the operation and where and when it will take place. In the majority of cases, only the ‘standard’ CAA permission is granted and this favours aircraft weighing no more than 7kg (15 lbs). Any aircraft weighing more than 20kg (44 lbs) are subject to a more involved process and are more difficult to approve.

All applications should be made as far in advance as possible.

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