Commercial Drones PilotsFirst-step analysis: drone operations and maintenance in United Kingdom

September 23, 2021by helo-10

Operations and maintenance

One drone, one pilot

Does the ‘one drone, one pilot’ rule apply in your jurisdiction?

For drones operating in the Open category, the pilot must maintain a direct, unaided visual contact with the drone. Consequently, the remote pilot may only fly one drone.

For operations in the Specific of Certified category, operational authorisation may be sought from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) where more than one drone will be operated by a single pilot. This would be achieved by submitting an operating safety case setting out the risks and safety mitigation measures of the operation. This would most likely to be on the basis of a swarm operation. CAP 722E provides additional details about the requirements and factors that the CAA will consider with such an operation.


Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of drones?

There are no specific rules relating to maintenance for drones operated within the Open category.

For any operation requiring an operational authorisation outside a pre-defined risk assessment, details of the scheduled maintenance timescales and associated tasks, maintenance procedures, how scheduled and unscheduled maintenance actions are recorded and the repair philosophy are required in the application to the CAA.

Basic operational rules and restrictions

What rules and restrictions apply to flights performed in ‘visual line of sight’ (VLOS) and ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS)? Is there a distinction in this regard?

All Open category operations must be performed in VLOS unless the aircraft is flown in follow-me mode or in accordance with Part A of the Annex to the UAS Implementing Regulation. Corrective spectacles can be used, but the use of any vision-enhancing device (eg, binoculars) is prohibited.

BVLOS operations for drones of any size take the drone operation into a Specific category operation and are prohibited without an operational authorisation from the CAA. BVLOS operations are drone operations that are not conducted in the VLOS of the remote pilot. To undertake BVLOS operations, an operator will need to apply for an operational authorisation from the CAA evidencing in an operating safety case that the BVLOS operation can be conducted safely. The primary consideration is whether the operation can mitigate the risk of collision (with aircraft, objects and people). With the exception of a segregated airspace, at a technical level this requires a detect and avoid system that is sufficiently advanced to operate at least as well as the ability of a pilot to see and avoid potential collisions (see CAP 1861A).

What rules and restrictions apply to critical and non-critical operations? Is there a distinction in this regard?

The critical and non-critical operations distinction does not exist in the UK, but operations in the Open category are equivalent to non-critical operations, and operations within the Specific and Certified categories are equivalent to critical operations for which an operational authorisation is required.

With respect to night-time operations, provided direct visual contact can be maintained (in accordance with article  4(1)(d) Implementing Regulation) there is no prohibition on operating a unmanned aircraft at night, subject to the requirement that when operating at night, a remote pilot shall ensure that a green flashing light is activated on the unmanned aircraft. For any application for an operational authorisation that will involve VLOS night flying, the operating safety case will need to address operating procedures at night, including aircraft and landing site lighting, hazard identification and weather limitations.

Transport operations

Is air transport via drone (eg, cargo and mail) regulated in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements, limitations and restrictions apply?

Mail and cargo delivery is at an early stage of development in the UK and there are a number of technological challenges associated with its implementation. Any such operation would constitute a commercial operation and would invariably need to be operated BVLOS and within congested areas.

An operation involving transport via drone would require an operational authorisation from the CAA. The operating safety case would need to satisfactorily deal with aviation risks relating to BVLOS, operations in congested areas (including take-off and landing), the effect of differing cargo weight on the flight envelope (including payload maximums), cargo release mechanisms, and a system coordinating drone traffic if there are multiple cargo drones operating in the same airspace (among other potential safety issues).

Do any specific provisions governing consumer protection and tracking systems apply with respect to cargo and delivery operations via drone?

There are no consumer protection and tracking provisions that are relevant to cargo drone operations in the UK. However, this area is in an early stage of regulatory development in the UK.

Insurance requirements

What insurance requirements apply to the operation of drones?

Pursuant to article 2(b) of Regulation (EC) 785/2004, there are no requirements for ‘model aircraft’ with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) of less than 20kg to have insurance cover. The UK has defined a ‘model aircraft’ as a small unmanned aircraft with an MTOM of less than 20kg used for sport or recreational purposes only.

In relation to all other small unmanned aircraft and drones with an MTOM of 20kg or more, insurance cover must be sought that meets the requirements of Regulation (EC) 785/2004. This requires drone operators to have insurance cover for each and every flight covering their aviation-specific liability with respect to cargo and third parties (passenger and baggage insurance not being relevant to drone operations).

For drones with an MTOM of less than 500kg, minimum insurance for third party liability is 750,000 special drawing rights (SDR) (article 7). Minimum insurance in respect of cargo liability is 22 SDR (article 6, as amended by the revised limits in Regulation (EU) 2020/1118).

Safety requirements

What safety requirements apply to the operation of drones?

The entire structure of the risk categorisation is safety-driven.

In relation to the operation of drones in the Open category (with the exception of drones under 250g), remote pilots need to (1) be familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions and (2) have obtained a flyer ID by completing successfully an online theoretical knowledge. The examination includes safety-related questions on topics such as air safety, airspace restrictions, aviation regulation and human performance limitations. Furthermore, for an operation to be conducted in the Open category, the pilot will need to be operating a drone within the appropriate class (less than 250g, C0-C4 operated potentially with an active and updated direct remote identification system and geo-awareness function) within the physical limitations (ie, distance from people, assemblies of people, obstacles, restricted areas, height from ground) given in the Annex to the Delegated Regulation. As an additional layer of safety, the manufacturer of the drones is required to comply with limitations in the build based upon potential kinetic energy in any impact by class (max speed, MTOM) and to prevent operation outside the operational limitations (max attainable height).

Where an operation is within the Specific or Certified category, the operational authorisation process is safety-driven, with the safety risk assessment forming the keystone of that authorisation. Where the operation is a pre-determined type of operation, in which the risks and mitigation measures are known, a shortened pre-defined risk assessments process can be utilised.

For all other operations falling within the Specific or Certified category, operators are required to submit an operating safety case and obtain operational authorisation from the CAA. The level of detail required in the operating safety case is based on the risk of the operation. The process requires the operator to have evidenced drone piloting competency and a full identification of the risks of the operation and how those risks are mitigated to a tolerable and ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ level.  

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

25 August 2020.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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