UK Drone Regulations and Law - What Changes in 2021

UK Drone Regulations and Law - What Changes in 2021

With the end of December 2020, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has released the new laws and regulations for UAV (Unmanned Arial Viehickal) pilots in the UK. New rules are coming into force on the 31st of December 2020 and are expected to last until 2022.

For a start, we are going to focus on the private, non-commercial UAV pilots and not going cover any professional or extended drone UAV operations in this article.

This article has a topic on our forum.

The New ID's

 No kidding, It is a law!

The well-known Operator ID is not enough anymore. From the end of December 2020, an owner of a drone or model aircraft must have an Operator ID but in addition, everyone who wants to fly his aircraft must also obtain mandatory Flyer ID.

Flyer ID is adequate to what use to be a BMFA or the FPVUK certificate.

Previously issued certificates are, unfortunately, no longer recognised by the CAA what means you must pass the competency exam again to obtain your Flyer ID.

RC Aircraft UAV and Operations classifications:

It is now going to be all about what you do and what do you fly. Let's start by getting an understanding of the basics. 

UAV Operation Types Explained:

We are focusing on the non-commercial flyers, operating sub-250g and up to 2kg aircraft.
Those are the operations classified by CAA as

  • A1 (Up-to 250g, Very Low risk, Open UAV operations)
  • A3 (251g up to 4kg, Low risk, Open UAV operations)

UAV Classes Explained:

There are five available drone classes C0, C1, C2, C3 and C4
With the new rules, the drone makers are to put the class mark on your aircraft for you. You might ask, what about an aircraft I already own? It is not marked!

By the information available in the CAA note, If your aircraft is not marked with a classmark then total takeoff mass including battery but not the fuel becomes a determining factor of if you need to register or not.

The chart below will also tell you if your privately build or DIY model needs to labelled and if you need to register to fly it.

Drone Class Mark  If Class Mark not supplied or UAV modified   Flyer ID   Operator ID 
C0  Mass Below 250g - Labeled as a toy  NOT REQUIRED NOT REQUIRED 
C0  Mass Below 250g - Not Labeled as a toy but NO CAMERA  NOT REQUIRED NOT REQUIRED
C1  Mass Below 250g - With a Camera NOT REQUIRED REQUIRED BY LAW
C2-C4  Mass Above 250g - With a camera or not REQUIRED BY LAW REQUIRED BY LAW

Battery, unfortunately, counts as the fuel tank, not fuel so needs to be added.

If you make any modification to your aircraft it can't be recognised as it is in the market category. Instead, It is from the point of making any functional modification classified base on its mass! It is acting the same way as unmarked or DIY flying RC vehicle.

Practical Q&A:

Q: If I fly a racing 5" drone that was made by myself...  It has a camera, It's an FPV camera that I use to control the craft. It is 460g of mass including a battery. Do I need to register?
A: YES. You need to have a valid Operator ID as the owner and the person responsible for a drone and a Flyer ID to fly it. You will be operating it under A3 Class UAV operation rules.

Changes to the Flying rules, Flying under A1 and A3 Operation Regulations.

I would recommend you read the full 40, or so, pages note about flying in Open A1 and A3 Class but if you find it hard this guide might be a good starting point for you.

As I mentioned before it is about what do you fly and where. Flying in A3 means flying aircraft with Total Takeoff Mass > 250g (C1 and C0 drone class) The guidelines of safety are as follow:

A3 Flying Rules and Changes (Flying Over 250g)

Flying UAVs with mass > 250g in open A3 Operations.

  • No flying more than 120m / 400ft of the altitude above train (No changes)
  • No flying closer than 150m from urban/built-up areas or crowds of people regardless of the altitude (No Changes)
  • No flying close to an airport 1km limit from outer zone + 5km if in line of the runway (No changes)
  • No flying within 50m proximity bubble from an uninvolved people. (This one is changing!)
    Now, there is no flying above the 50m bubble! No flying over people, no flying over single buildings etc. 
  • Always fly within a line of sight (No changes)

A1 Flying Rules and Changes (Flying sub-250g)

Flying UAVs with mass smaller than 250g in open A1 Operations.

  • No flying more than 120m / 400ft of the altitude above train (No changes)
  • You can fly small drones (sub 250g) in the residential and built-up areas but remember, it is your responsibility to fly safely!
  • No flying close to an airport 1km limit from outer zone + 5km if in line of the runway (No changes)
  • Sub-250g, C0 or C1 can fly closer than 50m to people and it can fly over them! Flying in the built-up area is also allowed for A1 cat in the UK!
  • Always fly within a line of sight (No changes)

Data and Privacy Protection!

News rules are clear about recording the video. You need to respect other peoples privacy while recording your video footage. More detailed instructions can be found on the CAA website and I would recommend you go through them, however, the bottom line is... Respect other people privacy!

Flying with FPV

Most EU countries have made FPV (First Person View) flight illegal due to the necessity of keeping the aircraft/drone in the direct line of sight.

The UK regulations, however, are allowing FPV under exception ORS4 No.1294. You can find it here. the PDF document is available here.

What else?

At this point it remains a bit blurred how, if at all, existing registrations and certificates will translate into the new scheme.

Quite a few FPV pilots have reported the A certificate from BMFA or FPVUK not being recognised anymore. That means Those pilots will have to pass the exam again to acquire mandatory flyer ID.

I suppose we were all hoping it will become easier but the future doesn't seem to look bright yet. At the end of the day, it is worth remembering that the CAA is suspending tax money on regulating toys and hobbyists. A large argument can be made about the safety of this hobby but it's certainly not the statistics that would justify such actions from CAA in my humble opinion.

For example, no one in the world would go through the difficulty of getting a driving licence just to do everything against the law on the road.  I think the same applies here. No honest person would go through all of this just to do something dumb with the drone! So what's the point?!

Thank you for reading and all the best in the new year.

References and useful links:


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