What’s the difference between a Flyer and an Operator ID?
The CAA classes the person who flies the drone as the ‘flyer’. The person ultimately responsible for the drone is the ‘operator’. In practice, this distinction allows the operator to let other people fly the drone, provided they have the appropriate flyer ID. In practice, this allows for multiple pilots of the same drone, as might be necessary for a school or a professional environment.
It is the duty of the operator to control who has access to the drone and to ensure that the name of the operator is visible on the craft itself.
To be granted an operator ID, you’ll need to be over eighteen — though there is no such age limit for pilots. You don’t need to register more than once: you can use the same operator ID on multiple drones and model aircraft.
How much does CAA registration cost?
It’s also worth noting that Operator IDs last for just one year, while Flyer IDs last for five. If you’re flying your drone as a hobby, you’ll need to get into the habit of updating the license every year. There’s a £9 cost attached to applying for an Operator ID, while the Flyer ID is free.
Do I need to register?
The regulations divide drones into five distinct categories, numbered from C0 to C4. Some drones are privately built and don’t come with class marks.
If your drone is in the C0 class or weighs less than 250g, you won’t need a flyer ID. You don’t need an operator ID, either — unless the drone is equipped with a camera. If the pilot is under thirteen, then they must have their parent register for either a flyer or an operator ID.
As such, it’s easy to recommend that new pilots stick to drones that fall under the weight limit. Consequently, you’ll see the weight advertised prominently on smaller drones targeted at new users.
Passing the test
To be issued a flyer ID, you’ll need to pass an online theory test. This test is a free multiple-choice test of 40 questions. You’ll need to get 30 of them right to pass, and you can consult the Drone and Model Aircraft Code during the test if you’re not sure of anything. There’s no time limit, either — you can spend all day taking the test, provided that you’re not inactive for longer than an hour and a half.
If you don’t pass the test the first time, then there’s no reason to worry — you can take it as many times as you like. The CAA recommends setting aside at least 30 minutes for the test — though many test-takers will find that they’re able to whiz through much quicker.
What are the sub-categories for drone flying?
Just as the drones themselves are split into categories, so too are the types of flight you can do. The CAA refers to flights as ‘operations’, and they come in four basic types.
Open A1 and A3
The ‘Open’ category is the starting point at which new pilots begin to fly. It’s low-risk and basic. It’s the category that requires the least skill and experience on the part of the pilot. In A1, you’re flying over people; in A3, you’re flying far away from them. There are some limitations when it comes to the type of drone you’ll be piloting. Drones classed as C3 or higher, for example, can only be flown in A3 operations.
What ‘far away’ means is left open to interpretation, but the CAA use 50m as a guideline; however, it’s a flexible guideline. As the CAA’s official guide explains: “You can fly closer than 50m to people who are with you and who are involved in what you’re doing, such as friends, family or colleagues out flying with you. But always remember, you must never put anyone in danger.”
The A2 is what will allow you to fly close to people — but not over their heads. To fly in this category, you’ll need to pass a more advanced theory exam and have the A2 Certificate of Competency.
Specific & Certified
These categories of operation constitute an elevated level of risk, with ‘certified’ being comparable to the dangers in manned aviation. In the UK, regulations related to the latter category have not yet been developed — but suffice to say, most new drone pilots don’t need to worry about them.
CAA drone no-fly zones
‘Restricted airspace’ covers the vicinity of an airport. But it can also refer to other sensitive facilities and areas. Government buildings, prisons and royal residences might also all qualify. There are looser restrictions on flying near tall structures or near wildlife. You might also find that there are bylaws put in place to restrict drone activity in an area (often because they’re causing a nuisance to locals).
If you’re set on flying your drone at a given location, and you’re unsure of whether it’s right to do so, then simply ask the relevant authority.
What about crowds?
Worth special attention is a prohibition against filming crowds. If people can’t move away quickly to dodge an out-of-control drone, then they’re at higher risk of being hit by one. As such, shopping centres, sports events, political rallies and music festivals are to be avoided by aspiring drone pilots.
What about Insurance?
Once you have your drone registered, it’s worth making sure that you’re insured against any mishaps before you take to the skies. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself, safe in the knowledge that, should the worst happen, you’ll be covered.
If your drone weighs more than 20kg, then third-party insurance is a requirement. This applies whether you’re using the drone for professional, sporting, or leisure reasons. If you’re underneath that weight, however, it’s still worth thinking about investing in insurance.
Even a small drone can represent a significant investment for a hobbyist, and during the early stages of your drone experience, you’re at increased risk of damaging the aircraft. To avoid being out of pocket, why not get yourself covered?