If you’re the proud owner of a new drone, then you might wonder what drone registration procedures UK pilots need to worry about. And the answer is that, in the UK, there’s no such thing as ‘drone registration’ per se, but you do need to register yourself as a pilot in most cases.
Consumer level drone technology has only just arrived, and the rules that govern it are still in the process of being written. Some major changes arrived toward the back of 2020, in order to bring the drone rules in the UK into alignment with the rest of Europe. The new rules do away with most distinctions between leisure and commercial flying, and instead impose limits based on things like weight and safety.
What makes a drone?
To make matters that little bit simpler, lawmakers will tend to avoid the term ‘drone’ in favour of ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (or UAV). That way, there can be no arguing about what really constitutes a drone and what doesn’t. If your vehicle flies without a pilot, then it needs to abide by the rules.
What kinds of licences are available?
There are two kinds of registration that we need to concern ourselves with. The ‘Flyer ID’ applies to the person who’s actually flying the drone, while the ‘Operator ID’ applies to the person or organisation charged with its maintenance. You need to be at least eighteen years old to apply for the latter, which means that younger pilots will need a parent, guardian or flying club to get them into the skies.
If you want to own model aircraft without actually flying them yourself, then you don’t need to worry about the flyer ID.
You can take the test for both kinds of ID as many times as you like, and there are no rules against looking things up while you’re in the process of taking the test. There are forty multiple-choice questions. As such, most can get registered fairly easily.
What qualifications do drone pilots need?
For new pilots, the ‘PfCO’ (or Permission for Commercial Operation) has been superseded by two new qualifications, each of which covers different weight categories. If you want to fly a drone of between 250g and 2kg in a built-up area, then you’ll need what’s called an A2 Certificate of Competency. If you want to go heavier than that, then you’ll need a General Visual Line-of-Sight Certificate (or GVC). This will take you up to 25kg.
What is the maximum flying height for drones?
In the UK, you’re capped at 120 metres above ground level. This restriction is in place to stop drone pilots from unwittingly interfering with commercial aviation and wildlife, and to minimise the chance of injury. If a 250g vehicle falls from 120 metres, it can still potentially cause a lot of damage — and as such the height restriction isn’t a substitute for responsible flying.
Do I need to register every drone I own?
Since you’ve registering the pilot and operator rather than the drone itself, there’s no reason to register more than once — unless you’re renewing an existing ID.
How often do I need to register?
A flyer ID is valid for five years. An operator ID, on the other hand, needs to be renewed annually.
How much does it cost to register to fly a drone?
You can register for a flyer ID for free. For an operator ID, on the other hand, you’ll need to pay a £9 fee every time you sign up.
Do I need to register my micro drone?
Drones that are lighter than 250g can be used by unregistered pilots in most cases. These are typically marketed as toys, and you might see popular offerings in this category fall just short of the 250g mark for precisely this reason. For example, the hugely popular Mini 2 from DJI weighs in at less than 249g, and even says so on the side of the drone itself.
If you’re wondering whether you need to register your micro-drone, the answer is probably no — but there is a notable exception, and that’s if the drone comes with a camera. So, the aforementioned Mini 2 falls into the C0 category, which means that the pilot doesn’t need a flyer ID. But since it comes with a camera, flyer ID is required.
What kinds of operations are there?
The Civil Aviation Authority refers to a drone flight as an ‘operation’. These come in three different categories, namely Open, Specific and Certified. The open category is the starting point for new pilots, and includes A1, A2, and A3. Of these, A2 is the riskier, as it involves flying over people’s heads.
What kinds of drone are there?
Drones also come in categories. There are five, ranging from C0 to C4. C0 covers the sub-250g craft that we’ve already talked about.
What about labelling?
If you are registered as an operator, one of your duties is to label every drone for which you’re responsible with your operator ID. That way, if your drone ends up doing something that it shouldn’t, it can be traced back to you. The label must be clear on the exterior of the chassis, with the ID in legible block capitals.
If you fail to take this step, then you are breaking the law.
Do I need to insure my drone?
If your drone weighs more than 20kg, then you’ll need to have third-party insurance, in much the same way you would if you were driving a car that could injure someone or their property. Similarly, if you’re flying it for a reason other than leisure (such as for commercial filming purposes), then you’ll need third-party insurance.
What other rules do I need to follow?
Having registered yourself, you’re ready to fly, right? Not so fast. The Civil Aviation Authority maintains a fairly extensive list of points to remember in the form of the Drone Code, which should provide guidance for newly-registered drone operators and flyers. Drones must remain in visual line of sight, and be prevented from flying in restricted airspace — that is, unless the relevant permissions have been obtained in either case. By following the code, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding problems — both legal and otherwise!