UK drone regulation: update
In yet another development in the ever growing world of UK drone regulation, the latest amendments to the 2016 Air Navigation Order come into force on 30 November 2019 with a new strict regime of compulsory registration and competency requirements for all operators and flyers of drones weighing between 250g and 20kg.
The new laws come in as part of the future of mobility Grand Challenge, outlined in the government’s Industrial Strategy, and in a bid to promote safety whilst facilitating the rapid growth of drone use in UK airspace. They make it mandatory for anyone owning a drone or unmanned aircraft (including model aircraft) in the 250g to 20kg weight category to be registered as the drone’s legal owner or operator with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Individuals will only be able to register if they are over the age of 18, unless an adult registers on their behalf and takes all legal responsibility for them. The registration will cost operators £9 and is renewable annually.
Once registered, drone operators will receive an Operator ID certificate which they will be required to label their drone or model aircraft with. UK drone operators should be aware though, that UK registration is not valid outside of the UK and the requirements of the relevant local authorities should be verified before flying drones or model aircraft outside of the UK.
The CAA Registration Scheme is now live and is available online at https://register-drones.caa.co.uk. An offline service is also available.
In addition to these registration requirements, the new rules oblige anyone flying drones in the same weight category, regardless of the drone’s ownership, to pass a free online competency test in order to obtain CAA competency recognition by way of a Flyer ID. The test includes 20 multiple choice questions, all based on the Drone and Model Aircraft Code and is renewable every 3 years. Although there is no minimum age for Flyer ID’s, pilots under the age of 13 must register whilst in the presence of their parent or legal guardian.
It is important to note however, that the competency test does not replace the requirement to obtain a Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) in order to fly drones for commercial purposes, but, conversely PfCO holders are not required to take the online Flyer ID test.
In addition to the PfCO holder exemption, a similar exemption from the requirement to take the online competency test is provided to remote pilots flying in accordance with a permission, exemption or operational authorisation issued to a named Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operator by the CAA. Members of UK model aircraft associations holding certificates or awards for competency schemes which have already been reviewed and approved by the CAA will also be exempt from the test. The CAA will be issuing a formal exemption which can be used alongside existing permissions/achievements and other relevant documents to allow these exempt pilots to demonstrate competence, if challenged.
From 31 January 2020, exemption from the registration requirements will be afforded to current members of ARPAS-UK, British Model Flying Association (BMFA), Scottish Aeromodellers’ Association (SAA), Large Model Association (LMA) and FPV UK. Instead, these associations will supply the data of their members to the CAA themselves after collecting their respective members’ registration fees directly. Although this exemption does not officially come into force until the new year, an exemption from the need to register will be put in place by 30 November to cover association members until this time.
For those flying control line model aircraft, the CAA will also be issuing an exemption which removes the requirement to comply with both the registration and online competency test requirements.
Further information and guidance on the new registration and competency requirements can be found on the CAA’s website.
With the new rules going live on 30 November 2019, anyone operating a drone or unmanned aircraft who has not obtained their Operator ID and/or Flyer ID from the CAA will be breaking the law and subject to a current maximum fine of £2,000. While these new requirements may seem daunting, they are seen by the government and the CAA alike as essential in the promotion of responsible drone flight and industry innovation.
Whilst it remains to be seen whether the competency requirements of the online education package will be stringent enough, the registration requirements will certainly provide regulators with more power to promote safe drone operation in the already saturated UK skies.