The rules on drones are often little known or misunderstood.
As the technology has evolved, and the capabilities of drones increased, so too has the rules and laws that govern their usage.
Only recently, Cheshire Police were investigating a drone flying over Beeston Castle, a Schedule 1 historic area that does not permit drones to fly above its grounds.
At the other end of the country, Gatwick Airport, in London, was brought to a standstill for two days after two drones were spotted flying over the area.
There has also been a number of near misses at Manchester Airport involving drones and aircraft, with consequences of a strike being potentially fatal.
With the help of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) guidelines, CheshireLive has decided to look at some of the key rules drone owners in the Open A1 and A3 categories (basic, low risk flying) must follow in the UK.
Drone owners in A1 and A3 categories must fly below a legal height limit of 120m, or 400ft.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, this reduces the risk of coming across other aircraft, which normally fly at a higher altitude.
However, the CAA recommends that drone pilots listen out for other aircraft, with air ambulances and police helicopters sometimes flying below 120m.
Keep your distance
Height restrictions also applied when flying where there are hills, mountains or cliffs.
The drone must never be more than 120m from the closest point of the earths surface, according to the CAA.
If the ground falls or rises where you’re flying, you may have to adjust your flight path so that the drone is never more than 120m from the closest point to the earths surface.
Stay 50m away from people
The CAA says drone pilots in these A1 and A3 categories must keep a minimum horizontal distance of 50m between the drone and people.
This includes people in buildings and on transport, such as cars, lorries, trains and boats.
The height limit over this horizontal distance goes all the way up to the legal height limit outlined earlier.
However, the CAA also points out that the rule on minimum distances is different for people involved in what you’re doing. For example, there is no minimum if family and friends are involved with what you’re doing, as long as everyone remains safe.
Smaller drones and model aircraft below 250g, C0 or C1 class also face different restrictions. Those flying this type of drone can fly closer to people than 50m, as long as its safe to do so.
Residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas
Drone users in the A1 and A3 category must keep at least 150m away from residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas, according to the CAA.
The 150m is a minimum, with drone pilots warned to be prepared to increase this distance when necessary for safety.
Restrictions again differ for those flying a smaller drone below 250g or in the C0 or C1 category. These drones can be flown in residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas, as long as it’s safe to do so.
Stay away from airports
There has been several major incidents in the UK involving drones in close proximity to airports.
According to the CAA, most airports and airfields have a flight restriction zone (FRZ) to avoid any collisions with aircraft at or near the airport.
Drone pilots should never fly in this zone, unless permission is granted from the airport.
Websites such as Drone Safe and some drone apps give more details on airport and airfield restrictions.
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Drone Safe guidance states: “The government has introduced a restriction around every protected aerodrome in the UK, which is a two (or 2.5) nautical mile radius cylinder and a series of 5km rectangular zones from the end of each runway threshold- all of which extend up to 2000ft above the surface.
“It is illegal to fly anywhere in this area without permission from the air traffic control unit at the aerodrome, or if not operational, from the aerodrome itself.”
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Other factors to take into consideration
The CAA says that drone pilots should be aware of other rules and laws that may be in place under certain circumstances or in particular areas.
For example, certain areas such as prisons, military ranges and royal palaces may have restricted airspace.
Flying above certain events might be temporarily suspended for the safety of everyone involved.
Emergency incidents, such as floods, fires or road traffic collisions, may see restrictions enabled so that emergency services can do their jobs without disruptions.
Byelaws in certain areas may also prohibit people flying drones.