Drones are set to top the Christmas lists of many children, and adults, this year. The airborne gadgets are becoming more affordable, reliable and James Bond-esque by the month – they’re even the basis of a new “sport”. Here’s how to stay on the right side of the law, avoid kicking off 2018 with a hefty fine and the answer to the big tech question – “Where can I fly drones in the UK?”
First, don’t fly your drone anywhere near an airport, aerodrome, airstrip or military base. There are already blood-curdling tales of near-misses with passenger aircraft at surprisingly high altitudes. Pilots, understandably, are worried.
If you’re unsure if there’s an airport nearby (note that the rules cover all runways, even if they’re just a patch of grass in someone’s field), noflydrones.co.uk is an excellent resource. The website provides a handy map view of all airspaces, which is colour-coded for controlled airspaces, danger areas, prohibited areas, restricted areas, military traffic zones and areas protected by bylaws.
As you can see from the screenshot above, my neck of the woods is comparatively blessed with drone-flying areas, thanks to all of the countryside. The only major hazards are the controlled airspace of Gatwick Airport (the blue blob on the left) and the danger area of a skydiving centre (the red zone on the right). Contrast that with London…
If you’re still feeling blasé about the exclusion areas, let me hammer home that deploying your drone near an airport is a serious criminal offence and could land you in prison for five years.
With the obvious stated, it’s time to move onto the more precise government guidelines for flying an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The “Drone Code” is as follows:
- Watch your drone at all times
- Don’t exceed an altitude of 400ft, or 120m
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions thoroughly
- Don’t fly within 50m of a building or less than 150m away from a crowd
- You’re completely responsible for your drone – the excuse “the wind did it” won’t cut any ice with the police
“Those rules are ridiculous! It’s health and safety gone mad” some may exclaim. Yes, they drastically reduce the number of places you can take to the skies (especially in London) – but it’ll only take a drone hovering over your garden, crashing through your window or disrupting your holiday flight to change your mind.
If you’re still unsure, it’s worth downloading the free Drone Assist app (available for Android and iOS), which has been put together by the UK’s main air traffic control provider, NATS. It will show the areas you need to avoid, as well as giving you a list of potential ground hazards.
For more information, and to read the full UK laws regarding UAVs, head to the Civil Aviation Authority’s website.
And if you’re wondering which drone to buy, the DJI Spark comes heavily recommended by a lot of our drone-flying friends.
Now read this: How can I keep track of my Christmas present buying?