Lead Forensics
Prettys Solicitors Ipswich


Drones and the law

Thanks to technological advances, small unmanned / remotely piloted aircraft (or “drones” as they are more popularly known) are both inexpensive and easily available. However, anyone piloting a drone should be aware of the laws which relate to these aircraft and the liabilities which they can incur if they are not used responsibly. This is not just an academic legal issue; drone operators have been prosecuted for failing to comply with the rules (with the first conviction for breach of the rules in April 2014).

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has put in place specific rules that apply if you fly drones that weigh under 20kg recreationally. The full details of these can be found in Articles 94 and 95 of Air Navigation Order 2016, but the key points are as follows:

One particular point to note is that the more restrictive rules appear to apply if the drone is capable of using a camera, whether or not any camera footage is actually recorded. In an urban or suburban setting this is actually likely to cause issues for anyone piloting a drone on their own property, a point of which many people are unaware.

These basic rules apply to recreational use only. Anyone using a drone for “for the purposes of commercial operations” (i.e. where you are being paid for flying the drone) will need CAA permission to do so. This is an area where professional photographers who are using drones for aerial shots will need to be particularly careful. The details of this are outside the scope of this article, but there are various training organisations who can assist in preparing the operations manuals and certification of competence needed to obtain the relevant CAA permissions.

You should also consider the impact of general laws on flying a drone:

If your drone has a camera, you should consider the impact of the Data Protection Act 1998 (soon to be replaced with by the General Data Protection Regulation) on the collection of footage using the device. Compliance with the Act requires, among other things, that you only gather and use footage fairly and lawfully. The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance suggests that this would include making it obvious that you are responsible for the drone and that the drone is capable of filming. The guidance also highlights the importance of ensuring that you only record in appropriate locations using the drone – for example, using the drone to film your neighbour’s back garden is obviously likely to infringe their privacy; doing so repeatedly could amount to the offence of harassment.

If you would like more information about the law on drones generally, please see the CAA’s website on the topic. The CAA can provide further information on the need for permission to fly drones commercially or outside the limits set out in the Air Navigation Order 2016 and how to apply for such permission.

Michael Booth


e mbooth@prettys.co.uk

t 01473 298214

Article first published 13 January 2016

Revised 16 May 2018

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