Do I need a license to fly a drone?

Drones have quickly become one of the ‘hottest’ tech consumer gadgets, allowing us to capture photos and videos from new and exciting viewpoints, as well as providing access to otherwise inaccessible locations. Consumer drones can vary from anything from £50 to £1,500 or more and this depends on their functions, size and the technology that’s built into the drone.

Many industries are now also trying to implement commercial drones to help with services such as delivering food and packages, conducting surveillance for public safety, monitoring crops to improve management and yields, and many more.

There’s so much excitement around how drones can have a significant impact to our lives, but like with any other technologies, there’s a need to define and set rules that govern their safe use.

In December 2018, drones caused chaos at London’s Gatwick airport, leaving thousands of passengers stranded after flights were suspended when they were spotted flying near the airfield. Knowingly or not, these drones were in violation of rule number one of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Drone Code: “Don’t fly near airports or airfields.”

So what are the rules for owning and flying a drone in the UK, France and the US?

UK

You don’t need a license if you’re flying a drone for recreation purposes, as long as the drone weighs under 20kg. However, you must abide by the Drone Code, which clearly outlines what you should and shouldn’t do when flying a drone. Here’s a list of the rules you need to follow:

  • Keep your drone in direct sight
  • Don’t fly higher than 120m above ground and a distance of 500m
  • Avoid flying closer than 50m to people, buildings and cars
  • Don’t fly closer than 150m to buildings and crowds of people
  • You now need a drone operator ID for drones between 250g-20kg

As of November 2019, a new law came into effect according to which you need to register as a drone operator if you own and fly a drone that is between 250g-20kg in weight. To do that, you need to sit an online test with the CAA about legal and safe usage of drones before you can fly them, and pay £9 annual fee, otherwise you face a fine of £1000. Once you’ve passed the test, you’ll receive a unique license number which you need to display clearly on your drone.

US

If you’re based in the US, you’d need to follow the regulations provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Similarly to the UK’s Drone Code, the FAA also mandates the ’line of sight’ rule, meaning that drone operators need to keep the unmanned aircraft in eye shot at all times. You also need to register your drone with the FAA and label it with the registration number you’re provided. You also must keep the drone below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace. You also cannot fly at night, unless your drone has a lighting that allows you to know it’s location, and you should never operate your drone over any person or a moving vehicle.

In addition to the federal laws, several states in the US have enacted drone regulations of their own. You can find more detailed information in this article.

France

France has adopted similar rules when it comes to the operation of unmanned flying devices. All of the guidelines are listed in this useful leaflet, but here are some of the most essential ones:

  • Do not fly over people
  • Respect the maximum flight altitude (150m)
  • Request authorisation for flying for drones over 25kg
  • Do not fly near airports and other sensitive areas
  • Do not broadcast aerial pictures without the consent of the people captured

Drone regulations may vary from country to country, so we recommend that you check with your local aviation authority to find out what rules you might need to follow in order to fly a drone.

If you found this blog interesting, here are a few other drone-related blogs for you to read: