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Droning on: The legalities of drone-ership

From a niche hobby to a piece of tech known by just about anybody in the UK, drones have taken the market, and now our airports, by storm. But while an SUA (small unmanned aircraft) might just seem like a great way to catch that perfect video, what exactly can (and can’t) you do with this type of technology if you own your very own drone?

By Editorial Team. Published 11 March 2019. Last updated 27 January 2020.

We found out from Len South, drone owner and Academic Manager at ULaw, what you should be aware of as a drone owner or user.

“I bought a drone in January 2018,” says Len, “primarily to catch some cool video content, but after reading the instruction manual and finding no rules or restrictions for flying my new gadget, the lawyer in me felt it important to conduct my own research before heading out there – just in case. After discovering the limitations and the prosecutions I could face while flying my drone, and seeing the drama unfold over the Christmas period, I wanted to ensure everyone is aware of the legal restrictions as a drone owner.”

No fly zones

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) outlines the restrictions for flying a drone as a hobbyist, including exactly how high you’re allowed to take them, where they cannot be flown and advice for adhering to these regulations with ease.

It clearly states that it’s against the law to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or airfield boundary as it could endanger the safety of those on board an aircraft. Doing so is a criminal offence that could land you five years in prison.

Similarly, flying around people and buildings comes with restrictions. Any drone flown must stay at least 50m (150ft) away from any person or property, in order to keep them safe from any possible incidents. When it comes to crowds and built up areas, drones must be kept 150m (500ft) away while ensuring it’s within the generic height restrictions. Speaking of which…

No higher than 120m

It is against the law to fly a drone higher than 120m (400ft) anywhere in the UK. This height restriction was put in place under the Air Navigation Order 2018 (ANO) to help reduce the likelihood of drones interfering with aircrafts and causing life threatening accidents.

While this is the requirement, many manufacturers advertise the ability to reach heights similar to 6,000m (1,985ft), so don’t be fooled into paying more for height capabilities you’re legally not allowed to reach.

You are responsible

No matter where you’re flying your drone (or who you are letting fly it), it’s important to remember that you, as the owner, are legally responsible for the aircraft. If any laws get broken, incidents occur, or irresponsible flying is reported, it’s your drone and you’re responsible and it could result in criminal prosecution.

To help prevent this, the Air Navigation Order 2018 (ANO) requires owners to keep their drone in sight at all times while flying.

Upcoming legislation

While owners of commercially flown drones are required to undergo training and obtain a licence, drones owned by hobbyists all over the UK can be flown with no such requirement, meaning owners could have no idea about the laws and regulations at all.

In November 2019 the Air Navigation Order 2018 (ANO) is due to be updated with new legislation prohibiting SUA drones from flying with a mass of 250g or more, unless the SUA operator has obtained a certification or registration as well as an acknowledgment of competency from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Similarly, it was recently announced that The Drone Regulation Bill 2017-19 will soon be introduced across the UK. This will not only allow the police to land and seize drones as well as search premises for the gadget, but it will also regulate the ownership of drones weighing 5kg or more.

If the world of legal technology fascinates you, why not come along to the launch of our Moorgate Campus’s Legal Tech Hub at our LawTech Fair on 26 March 2019?

You can also check out more about our undergraduate Legal Innovation and Technology course or postgraduate MSc Legal Technology on our website.