Drones: A Menace in the Skies?

Drones; remote-controlled pilotless aircraft, are playing an increasingly important role in our lives.  From entertaining children to inspecting railways and other infrastructure, to creating breath-taking aerial images of our landscape, to military capabilities, drone use has exploded over the last decade. Drones offer a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to manned aircraft, such as aeroplanes and helicopters, in these situations.

Ranging in price from £20 for a drone that your child might fly in the local park, into thousands of pounds for commercial machines, the capabilities of drones vary massively. A budget machine may be able to fly a few dozen feet from the operator, whilst high-end craft may be operated from 100s of metres away.

It is this long-range capability that has brought drone use to the attention of lawmakers. Issues of privacy aside (in cases where drones are taking photographs or videos), the aviation authorities have reported many instances of near misses between drones and commercial and private aircraft, with 93 incidents reported in 2017 alone.

The rise in drone use can be seen in the number of commercial licences issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA): five in 2010 compared to 4,500 in 2018.

Rules for flying Small Drones

Under the Civil Aviation Rules, you can only fly the drone

  • If you are reasonably experienced and have the ability to land the drone safely.
  • You must be able to maintain direct and unaided visual contact with the drone in order to monitor the drone’s flight path in relations to other drones, aircraft, vehicles, vessels and building structures. The purpose of this rule is to avoid any collision and damage.
  • If your drone weighs more than 7 Kgs without fuel but may include cameras or other equipment, then you are not allowed to fly your drone


  1. In class A, C, D and E airspace without prior permission from the related air traffic control unit
  2. Within an aerodrome air traffic zone during the notified hours of the watch of air traffic control unit unless you have obtained a permission from the relevant air traffic unit
  • You are prohibited from using the drone for a commercial purpose except where you have obtained a licence or agreement from Civil Aviation Authority
  • You must also ensure that you do not cause any damage to a person or a property by dropping any item attached to your drone

Hight of Drone’s Flight

You are only allowed to fly your drone 400 feet above the surface and the drone must be at least 1 Kilometre away from airport boundaries. You may still be able to fly the drone above 400 feet only with permission of relevant air traffic unite and in designated areas.

Surveillance Drones

The rules for surveillance drones are very strict

·         You must obtain permission from the Civil Aviation Authority in order to operate a drone for surveillance operations.

·         A surveillance drone must not fly over or within 150 metres above the surface in congested areas or 150 meters of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people.

·         Surveillance drones are prohibited within 50 meters of any vessel, vehicle and property which is not under the control of the drone operator or in charge.

·         A surveillance drone is prohibited from flying within 50 meters of any person.

·         The surveillance drones are also prohibited from taking off and landing within 30 meters from any person.

Changes to law

From 30 November 2019, if you have a drone which weighs more than 250 grams or more, you will be required to register with Civil Aviation authority and drone pilots will have to take an online safety test before they can fly their drones.

Drone users who fail to register or take the requisite online tests face fines of up to £1000.


Have a Question?

If you are affected by the issues raised in this article or have a legal query. You can now ask our experienced lawyers any legal question free of cost and without any obligation.

Ask Now


Your Partner in the legal world!

This article is written by our legal content writer James Chalkley (LLB. LLM.). You can seek further advice from James by booking an appointment with him.

Scroll to Top