The UK CAA Regulations for drone operations govern the use of all Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or small unmanned aircraft (SUA). The CAA (Civilian Aviation Authority) is responsible for all aircraft operating in the United Kingdom Flight Information Region (FIR). These regulations govern the safe operation of RPAs will respect to the public, property and other airspace users. Although these rules apply to all RPA operators, commercial users must also hold a Permission for Aerial Work (PFAW). Before the CAA will issue a PFAW, a pilot must undertake a 2-3 day ground school, pass a written exam and practical flight assessment, take out commercial insurance, and submit a detailed Operations Manual.
RPAs must be flown at all times under the following restrictions:
- Maximum 500m distance from the pilot’s location.
- Within visual line of sight (using the unaided eye other than normal spectacles).
- Under 400 feet (122m) altitude.
- Not less than 50m of any person, vehicle, vessel or building (unless under the control of the pilot).
- No flights within 150m or over organised crowds of 1000 people or more.
- No closer than 30m from any person not under the control of the pilot during take-off and landing.
- Priority must be given to all manned aircraft.
When you see private drone footage on the TV news of flights over towns and houses then in most cases these flights are illegal and unsafe to the public and property. Such areas are known as ‘congested areas’ and require special clearance from the CAA.
It is also illegal in the UK to use or employ a pilot for any work for commercial gain unless that pilot holds a CAA PFAW. This includes any business or property owner intending to use footage from their own private drone for commercial purposes.
The term ‘under the control’ refers to people who have been briefed by the pilot on what is happening with the drone and are happy to follow the pilot’s instructions. This normally involves a brief on where to stand and how to behave in the proximity of the drone. It can cover a client’s employees working in the area being filmed.