Regulation  |  15/04/2024  |  Jade Scotney

Where Can I Fly My Drone?

Drones have quickly become indispensable tools in various industries, as well as for amateur enthusiasts who want to capture breathtaking aerial footage, conduct detailed surveys, and more. However, it is critical to understand and adhere to drone flying rules in the UK, and legal and responsible drone usage is about safety, privacy, and respect. This guide is for both amateur and business users to understand drone regulations, to help ensure they operate in airspace legally. We’ll help you navigate that all-important question, “where can I fly my drone?”.

The CAA Drone Code

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the regulatory body overseeing and ensuring the safety of all aviation activities within the UK, including the operation of unmanned aircraft and drones. They set and enforce regulations for the use of airspace and the operation of aircraft within it, ensuring that the skies remain safe for everyone. 

In response to the surge in both recreational and commercial drone usage, the CAA introduced the Drone Code – a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines designed to help drone operators fly their unmanned aircraft safely and legally. Key points of the Drone Code include:

  • Always keep your drone in sight, so you can see and avoid other objects while flying.
  • Stay below 120m (400ft) altitude to reduce the risk of collision with manned aircraft.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and adhere to your drone’s operational limits.
  • Keep the right distance from people and property, which is 50m away from people and properties, and 150m away from crowds and built-up areas.
  • Never fly near airports or airfields as this poses a serious risk to aircraft.
  • Do not take photos or videos of people without their consent, and avoid flying over private land without permission.
  • Check for any restrictions or hazards in the area you plan to operate your drone.
  • Ensure you have the proper permissions and qualifications. 
  • Depending on your drone’s weight and how you intend to use it, you may need to register your drone with the CAA.
  • Always fly safely and understand how your actions could affect others.
  • Plan your flights, check your equipment, and never operate your drone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Drones with a Camera

Camera-equipped drones unlock unparalleled opportunities for stunning aerial photography and videography. But this creates significant privacy and surveillance concerns, and drone pilots must understand privacy rights and regulatory compliance to ensure that they do not infringe upon individual privacy or lead to unwarranted surveillance.

Key considerations include prioritising individual privacy by securing consent before capturing images, especially in contexts where people expect privacy. Flying in sensitive areas, such as near government or military installations and private properties faces strict restrictions to prevent intrusive surveillance. Finally, commercial drone operators are typically required to obtain specific authorisations from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to ensure their activities align with legal standards.

To protect privacy and avoid unauthorised surveillance, drone users should: 

  • Seek consent before recording.
  • Steer clear of densely populated areas to minimise capturing individuals without their agreement.
  • Respect established no-fly zones.
  • Comply with data protection regulations such as the DPA.
  • Exercise judgement in filming decisions.

Following these principles allows drone enthusiasts to ethically enjoy and benefit from aerial imaging while safeguarding the privacy and security of others.

Are Drones Covered by the Data Protection Act (DPA)?

In the UK, drones that capture identifiable images or videos of individuals fall under the Data Protection Act (DPA), and managing any personal data captured should be handled with utmost care, to comply with the DPA and the GDPR. Guidance for drone operators on DPA compliance includes:

  • When drones record identifiable individuals, whether directly or indirectly, this footage is considered personal data.
  • Collect personal data solely for clear, explicit, and legitimate reasons, and do not repurpose it outside of the original intent.
  • Gather only the personal data strictly necessary for your objectives.
  • Where feasible, notify people in advance of recording them, such as through signs or notices.
  • Adopt stringent security measures to safeguard collected personal data against unauthorised access, processing, loss, or damage.
  • Confirm that you have a legitimate reason, such as explicit consent or a demonstrable necessity, for processing personal data.
  • Be ready to respect the rights of individuals whose data you process, including access to their information, and correction or deletion of their data.

Working with these principles will help you to effectively navigate using your drone in accordance with the UK’s data protection regulatory framework, ensuring that personal data is handled respectfully and legally.

Where Can I Fly My Drone in the UK?

In the UK, drone flying is subject to specific guidelines that designate where you can and cannot operate your drone.

Drone flying is encouraged at designated flying sites, often with clubs affiliated with the British Model Flying Association (BMFA). As long as you respect privacy and follow the Drone Code, open countryside and coastal areas are generally suitable for drone flying; just be aware not to disturb wildlife. 

Drone flying is restricted or prohibited near airports and airfields for safety reasons. Flying over sports events, festivals, or any large gatherings is generally not allowed; and without the landowner’s consent, flying over private land can lead to privacy and trespassing issues.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s website is the best place to start planning drone flights. They have comprehensive maps and specific guidelines, as well as information about current no-fly zones and areas with flight restrictions, so you can plan your flights within legal bounds.

Our Final Thoughts

Understanding and adhering to the CAA’s Drone Code and relevant regulations is crucial for the safe and legal operation of drones in the UK, to ensure not just the safety of airspace, but also the privacy and respect of individuals on the ground. For expert guidance and to enquire about our drone services, get in touch; we’ll elevate your drone experiences with our professional service.