Drone laws for all UK users are changing in 2021 - what you need to know

Thursday, 31st December 2020, 1:12 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st December 2020, 1:13 pm

Drone pilots in the UK are to follow news rules as of 31 December, aligning with regulations across all EU member states.

The new rules dictate where drones can fly, and remove the distinction between commercial and recreational drone usage.

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The changes aim to streamline drone legislation, after it had become confusing, varying from nation to nation.

Christian Struwe, director of public policy DJI (one of the world’s biggest drone manufacturers) welcomed the changes.

He said: “It streamlines different processes and allows customers to travel from country to country without having to worry about different rules in different foreign locations.”

New rules explained

Every drone requires registration

Under the new rules, all drones will need to be registered with the relevant aviation authority. This includes smaller drones that previously could remain unregistered. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority is the regulator.

It is now against the law to fly a drone or model aircraft without having the required paperwork. Operators can also be fined for breaking the law when flying, and, in the most serious cases, pilots could be sent to prison.

New drone categories

To ensure the authorities will be able to trace who owns a drone if it is used in an irresponsible way, or flown in a location where it is not allowed, they have been given new categories for registration.

Under the new rules, there are three new drone categories - high, medium and low:

  • Low-risk or open-category drones will not require any authorisation but will be subject to strict operational limitations
  • Medium-risk or specific-category drones will have to have authorisation from the national aviation authority on the basis of a risk assessment
  • High-risk or certified-category drones will need to follow aviation rules, and this will apply to future drone flights with passengers

New rules about where you can fly

Smaller drones, which fall into the low risk category and account for the majority of hobbyist drones, will have additional rules about where they can be flown:

  • A1 - drones weighing less than 250g (0.55lb) can be flown over people
  • A2 - drones weighing more than 250g but less than 2kg must be flown at least 50m (164ft) away from people
  • A3 - drones weighing more than 2kg must be flown well away from people

Anyone wishing to fly any drone weighing more than 250g within 150m of people in the UK will still be required to pass the CAA official theory test, and to obtain a flyer ID.

The smaller hobbyist drones will be managed through the CE mark, which is the process for products sold in Europe to ensure they meet health, safety and environmental standards.

Drones have seen increased use during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many locations have relaxed regulations in order to allow medical supplies to be flown, with a recent test from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly carried out

The Royal Mail also tested drone deliveries for the first time in December.