UK Drone Regulations: Registering to Fly in the UK
Credit: Maxim Hopman
Pilots in the United Kingdom are in a unique position in terms of drone regulations. In 2016, the UK voted in favor of leaving the European Union, and their exit has brought on significant changes. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has left the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). There is a bright red banner alerting visitors to the UK-EU transition on every page of the CAA website. The banner reads: “References to EU regulation or EU websites in our guidance will not be an accurate description of your obligations or rights under UK law.” This transition has left some people confused about what rules they need to follow and where the up-to-date information is. There is a lot of information to digest, but this article will give you a breakdown of how to register to fly your drone in the UK.
Towards the bottom of the CAA homepage, there is a Quick Links section. In that section, there is a blue quadcopter thumbnail that links to the CAA’s Unmanned aircraft and drones webpage. At the top of that page, there is a note: “For the UK Dronecode, links to unmanned aircraft safety apps and other safety information visit dronesafe.uk.”
Through the Drone Safe website, you can access some helpful drone safety information and the Drone Code. The Drone and Model Aircraft Code houses all the information need on how to fly safely and legally in the UK and how to pass the flyer ID test, like a guidebook. The CAA considers this to be your starting point if you want to fly a drone or model aircraft in the UK. On the Drone Safe website’s registration page, you’ll see a summary of the drone registration requirements. This page also introduces the UK’s new Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service, a new online system that educates citizens on the rules, regulations, and registration.
The Drone Code
Almost all the information you need to register to fly is available through the Drone and Model Aircraft Code. It can be accessed through the Drone Safe website and the DMARES website and applies to flying unmanned aircraft systems outdoors in the Open A1 and A3 categories. It houses information on how to fly safely and legally in the UK and pass the flyer ID test. Think of it as a guidebook! The CAA considers this to be your starting point if you want to fly a drone or model aircraft in the UK. It’s important to note that the UK distinguishes between flyers and operators. Both positions require their own ID registration, which means the UK offers a flyer ID and an operator ID. Depending on your drone’s weight and class, you may need one or both IDs. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, most people get both.
Credit: Civil Aviation Authority
Registering for a Flyer ID
Flyers, or pilots, are anyone flying the drone. The flyer is in charge of safely completing the flight while adhering to the operator's management guidelines. Fortunately, flyer IDs are free. To obtain a flyer ID, the flyer must pass a theory test. You can register and take the test online at any age, but children under 13 must a parent or guardian with them when they take the test and register. You must retake the test to renew your Flyer ID every five years. The test is a free multiple-choice, open-book test that you can take as many times as you like. There are 40 questions, and you must pass with a mark of 30. The CAA advises that you allow yourself at least 30 minutes to complete it, but you can take as long as you like. Just make sure that you’re not inactive for more than 90 minutes.
Registering for an Operator ID
Operators are any person or organization who owns or is responsible for the drone. Operators must ensure that that they are effectively managing all flights utilizing their aircraft. An operator ID will cost you £9 and will need to be renewed annually. Only those over the age of 18 can register as an operator. Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian register for the operator ID.
Drone Weight and Class Marks
Under the UK’s regulations, there are weight requirements and class mark requirements. Generally, you will have to register for an ID if you are flying or operating any drone that weighs between 250g and 20kg. For pilots of drones that weigh under 250g, if your drone (1) has a camera and (2) isn’t a toy, then you must register as well.
Furthermore, drones and model aircraft have been split into five class marks (C0 - C4). The classes indicate what type of aircraft you have, whether you need to register for an ID to utilize it, and which ID you need. Drones classified as C0 or C1 are allowed to fly in the A1 subcategory of the Open category. C3 and C4 drones can only fly in the A3 subcategory. C2 drones can fly in either the A2 or A3 subcategories. If you fly in the A2 subcategory, you must pass the A2 theory exam (the A2 Certificate of Competency, also referred to as the A2 CofC), which is discussed in the Certification article.
Because class marks are a relatively new requirement, your drone or model aircraft may not have had a class assigned to it when it was built. If your drone does not have a class mark, only follow the weight criteria. If your drone does have a class mark, you must adhere to the class requirements. You can find more information on registration requirements and class marks here: Registration requirements for drones and model aircraft.
Credit: Civil Aviation Authority
Labeling Your Drone
You must label every drone or model aircraft that requires an operator ID (which you can check for on the registration requirements page). Rather than registering your drone with its own unique registration ID, UK drones must be labeled with the operator ID of the person who is responsible for it. Not doing so is illegal. All your drones must have the same operator ID affixed to them, never your flyer ID. You can find your operator ID in the registration email sent to you by the CAA or in the My registration area.
To properly label your drone, your operator ID must be:
Visible from the outside or within a compartment that can easily be accessed without using a tool
Clear and in block capitals taller than 3mm
Secure and safe from damage
On the main body of the aircraft
Tyesha Ferron is a writer and an artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. Specializing in digital art, Tyesha loves exploring the new ways technology intersects with culture and how drones make things more efficient and accessible for artists, hobbyists, and industry professionals. As a novice drone enthusiast, she continues to be impressed by what the drone community and industry can accomplish.