Guidance on flying drones for recreation, research or education.

Across the world, the growing popularity of drones, coupled with unregulated, uncontrolled and even malicious use has caused significant disruption to airport operations, security breaches, invasions of privacy, power and telecoms outages and serious injuries.

Pilots and owners of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) commonly referred to as drones, need to be aware of the legal and safety aspects governing their use.

Safe Systems of Work must be implemented to ensure compliance with UK regulations, College policy and terms of College insurance in relation to use of UAVs.

Flights must be carefully planned in advance, pilots trained and where necessary, supervised, and risk assessments and associated documents prepared that are proportional to the flying activity.

Please refer to the links below for further information and specific guidance. The flowchart above has also been included to help you select the most appropriate controls.

Drone and UAV Guidance

What’s the difference between Drones and UAVs?

Technically, although ‘Drone’ can be used to describe land based or seafaring vehicles, the common usage of the term refers to any aircraft (other than model aeroplanes) that can be remotely or autonomously guided, and many people understand it to mean the small multi-bladed helicopter or quadcopter devices that are now being flown by millions around the globe.  The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has generally adopted this description, placing remote controlled model aeroplanes in a separate category.

The phrase ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’ (UAV) is often used interchangeably with ‘Drone’ but some people would argue that UAVs must also have autonomous flight capabilities, whereas drones require a controller of some kind. So, every drone is a UAV, but not every UAV is a drone.

Drone Size and Categories

Drones and UAVs come in a wide range of sizes, from small toys (usually less than 250g) and micro UAVs being developed for remote sampling or other useful purposes, to larger devices that can carry video cameras or packages for delivery. At the other end of the scale, drones resembling full size aircraft are regularly used in military applications.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) define ‘small’ drones as ‘Any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or kite, having a mass of not more than 20Kg without its fuel, but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.’ There is specific guidance given by the CAA and UK Government on how, where and how high you are permitted to fly small drones.

Those drones and unmanned aircraft above 20Kg are subject to the whole of the UK Aviation Regulations. Any proposed use of these will need to be discussed in more detail with the College Safety Department and may require specialist input.

Uses – Recreational vs Commercial

The UK Civil Aviation Authority divides drone flying into two broad categories – Recreational and Commercial.

Recreational use is essentially flying for pleasure, without any payment or other reward. Recreational use restricts drones to the 20Kg weight limit in all cases, and if greater than 7Kg, additional rules apply in certain types of airspace, specifically the defined Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) of an aerodrome. If the drone is fitted with a camera, recreational users also have to limit flying near uninvolved people or objects.

Further information is provided by the CAA here.

The Drone Safe web site also has some excellent guidance for recreational users.

Commercial work, however, requires an elevated level of pilot training and documentation, and in order for the College public liability insurance to be valid, we have to meet these requirements if we conduct any flights ‘in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’ – that is, if we are being paid for the results of our drone use, either for their development or for the data or images obtained by them.

Commercial work requires Permission for Commercial Operators (PfCO) from the CAA. The process depends upon the complexity of the activity, but typically, for most ‘simple’ cases, commercial work requires that insurance is in place, a full operations manual has been prepared, that all pilots undergo full training and assessment by CAA approved assessment organisations, and that a log book is kept. (The organisation RUAS are an approved College training provider.)

Further information is provided by the CAA here.

Many of the approved training and assessment organisations will help with the preparation of the operations manual, and it may be possible to simply add additional pages to existing manuals prepared by other people at the College.

Obtaining  PfCO status could be quite costly, so if you think your project could fall into the ‘Commercial’ category, resources need to be allowed for in any proposals. Please contact your local safety officer or Faculty/Central Safety team for more advice and assistance.

Regardless of whether your flying is ‘recreational’ or ‘commercial’, if you are doing so as a member of College, including College clubs or societies, then an appropriate risk assessment must be carried out. As well as considering flight hazards and risks, this should look at training requirements, and help develop user instructions such as a Standard Operating Procedure.

Non-Commercial Education and Research Flying

If a taught course or research project is not directly funded by a business that intends to use the results of the data for its own business purposes (including any material or research into its products or services) then the CAA will not normally consider it to be a commercial operation.

However, because university research is funded through a variety of means (grants, charitable and alumni donations, etc.) and for varying purposes, this definition may not always be clear cut, and in each case, the arrangements should be carefully considered. Where there is any doubt, further advice should be sought from Faculty or College Safety Officers, who may in turn need to consult with the College insurers.

Flying Indoors and Tethering Drones

Flights inside buildings have nothing to do with air navigation because they can have no effect on flights by aircraft in the open air.  As a result, flights within buildings, or within areas where there is no possibility for the unmanned aircraft to ‘escape’ into the open air (such as a ‘closed’ netted structure) are not subject to air navigation legislation. However, as with external flying, if you are flying drones in such confined areas, you will have to abide by the Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which will usually mean risk assessing like any other activity.

Although opinion varies on how difficult or restrictive it is, the procedure of tethering a drone with a fixed cord can be cited as a significant mitigation factor when applying for an operating approval, potentially simplifying the overall process. However, tethered drones are subject to the same basic operating regulations as all other unmanned aircraft, and, where necessary, are subject to the same approvals process. Confining the drone’s movement by tethering is not the same as flying inside a closed netted area.

UK Drone Registration Scheme

The UK’s new Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service is now live.  Here is the link:- https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/

There are two elements to the online system. From the 30th of November 2019:-

  • Anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg needs to register as an operator.  The cost for this is currently £9, renewable annually. This will generate an ‘Operator ID’ , and each drone must be labelled with this.
  • Anyone flying a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) weighing between 250g and 20kg must take and pass an online education (training) package. This is free and renewable every three years. This will generate a ‘Flyer’ ID for each person.

There are a couple of exemptions to the online training – firstly, for those persons that have an up to date PfCO licence for commercial flying (see ‘Uses – Recreational vs Commercial) and secondly, for those members of UK model aircraft associations that have an appropriate CAA approved achievement award or certificate.

(The CAA will also  be issuing an exemption for those flying control line model aircraft, who will not need to comply with the registration or education regulations. This exemption does not extend to tethered drones, however.)

For most College flying activities, the Principle Investigator (or their delegate) should register those drones under their control; for clubs and societies, the President or leading member of the club should do so. If you are personally the owner of a drone which you will be flying,  then it is your responsibility to both register it to get your Operator ID (labelling the drone with this) and also undertake the training to get your individual ‘Flyer ID’.

Please note that a research group can register and use the same ‘Operator ID’ for each of their drones, by using the link ‘register their organisation for an operator ID’.  However, every individual must have a separate ‘Flyer ID’.

IMPORTANT - Registration of existing drones must be completed by the 30th November 2019 – Failure to do so risks a fine of up to £1000, as does flying without having taken (at least) the on-line training.

Risk Assessment Guidance and Examples

A risk assessment must be proportionate to the planned activity. For simple flights in indoor or netted spaces, there is likely to be less chance of harm or damage if something does go wrong, and the control measures will be easier to implement.  Hence, the assessment will probably be relatively short. However, outdoor flights will give rise to far more risks due to the environment or proximity to people, buildings, trees and other (possibly hazardous) structures, and of course, other airspace users. Assessments for these situations will need to be far more detailed and comprehensive. There is no specific College risk assessment template that must be used, although the standard templates available on the Central Safety web pages or from your Department or Faculty can be adapted to suit. If you need any help or advice with your risk assessment, contact your local or Faculty safety officer.

Here are two example assessments that give an idea of the hazards that may need considering, and the control measures that could be applied. Both are external flights, so contain a good range of each.

Drone Risk Assessment Example 1 (PDF)

Drone Risk Assessment Example 2 (PDF)

UAV Insurance Information

Small Unmanned Aircraft Cover

The following Special Definitions are added to Section 1 - Special Definitions:

Small Unmanned Aircraft
Small Unmanned Aircraft means any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.

Aviation Authority
Aviation Authority means:
(a) the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority; or
(b) any equivalent body or authority responsible for regulating the use of Small Unmanned Aircraft, in any country or territory within which Small Unmanned Aircraft operations are to take place.

Section 3- Special Exclusion 14 will not to apply in respect of the operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft provided always that the insured or any person acting on behalf of the insured
(a) complies with the operating and licensing provisions of all applicable Aviation Authority legislation, regulations, codes, orders and rules; and
(b) has received appropriate training in the use of the Small Unmanned Aircraft and has, where required, obtained the full qualification from a Civil Aviation Authority approved National Qualified Entity or equivalent body outside of the United Kingdom.

The indemnity afforded by this cover shall not apply to:
(a) legal liability arising from any actual or alleged invasion of privacy; or
(b) legal liability in respect of which the insured is entitled to indemnity under any other policy of insurance or would be so entitled but for the existence of this extension; or
(c) fines or penalties of any nature whatsoever

For the purposes of this cover:
(a) General Exclusion 3 e) i) will not apply in respect of the operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft in the United Kingdom
(b) The liability of the insurer under this extension shall not exceed £10,000,000 any one event.
By applying this endorsement the indemnity granted by this policy complies with the insurance requirements of EC Directive 785/2004.

UAV Insurance Information (PDF)