The United Kingdom is a territory with many marvels, from the Hedgestone and London’s Eye to the White Cliffs of Dover and the Seven Sisters, all often seen in many movies.
Who wouldn’t love to take unique aerial shots of these remarkable wonders?
Although you may or may not be allowed to do it, one thing is for sure: you must comply with UK drone laws.
According to CAA, to fly a drone in the UK, you must register for an Operator ID and, where required, a Flyer ID. A drone doesn’t have to be registered, but it is mandatory to attach a visible label with your Operator ID to comply with CAA regulations.
As a person who has lived in the UK for many years and operated drones both recreationally and commercially, I have some insights to share with you regarding the registration process and current drone laws.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
What is CAA in the UK?
CAA, or Civil Aviation Authority, is the official party overseeing the national airspace in the UK, from commercial planes to drones.
Before Brexit, CAA-enforced drone laws were governed by EASA, the party currently covering 27 European Union states.
Nowadays, CAA is not under EASA jurisdictions related to drone laws.
However, not much has changed since in terms of regulations.
If you have a drone or Operator ID and certificates registered elsewhere under an EASA member state, you won’t be able to use them in the UK freely anymore.
You have to follow their registration process, which is relatively simple, both related to the theoretical exam and obtaining the certificates to fly such drones.
Can I legally fly a drone in the UK?
Yes, you are legally allowed to fly a drone in the UK, but you must obey drone laws, register yourself as an operator, get a Flyer ID where required, and obtain the necessary permission to fly in some areas.
As a person who flew drones in the UK, I can say this could be one of the easiest countries to start flying a drone as a beginner and even commercially.
Beware that, if you remember the news about rogue drones flying around Gatwick Airport a few years back, CAA has been more aggressive at enforcing their drone laws and giving fines to those who don’t follow their regulations.
That’s why, although you can legally fly a drone in the UK, ensure you do it… legally.
Can I bring a drone to the UK by plane?
Yes, you can bring a drone to the UK by plane. I have done it myself several times.
Although border control won’t have an issue with you traveling with a drone into the UK if you follow basic procedures, everything else depends on the airline policies and the country of departure.
The basic rules and recommendations when flying internationally with a drone (and into the UK) are:
- Remove the battery from your drone and store it safely in a fireproof LiPo bag. Take these batteries into the cabin with you (to be placed overhead).
- Ensure your drone is stored safely in a travel bag to avoid getting damaged during transportation.
- The total amount of LiPo battery capacity should not exceed 100 Wh.
- Declare your drone from the country of departure if required by your airline or border control.
- Ensure the remote controller is turned off. There have been cases where a drone RC was left on mistakenly and searching for a signal, interfering with the aircraft, and the flight was delayed until the problem was found and fixed.
- When going through a UK airport, avoid turning the drone on, as it may trigger the airport’s drone detection safety systems.
Note: Please always check with your airline policies about traveling with a drone and with border control if required from your country of departure.
Can I register with the CAA as a non-resident?
You can register your account and get an Operator ID and Flyer ID as a non-resident.
You must complete registration and create your profile; when requested to enter your address, simply enter your home address from the country of provenience.
Registering your account and taking the tests before arriving in the UK is best to avoid delays.
You can create your account with the CAA here.
Once you have entered an email address, you should receive a code to your email, which is required for the next steps.
Follow the process and create your account by adding personal data where required.
Drone categories in the UK and required IDs
Here are the drone categories classified by CAA UK.
- Open A1 & A3 – basic, low-risk flying
- Open A2 – More risk than A1 & A3
- Specific – Moderate risk
- Certified – High-risk and complex flying
As of January 1st, 2023, all drones brought to the market within the UK must have a class marking, such as C0, C1, C2, C3, or C4.
If a drone produced before this date doesn’t have a classification marking, it’s considered a legacy drone.
As there is still a transition period after Brexit, current drones without a class marking will still be allowed to fly in the Open Category and take advantage of more relaxed drone laws until 2026 if some criteria are met.
Here is a table to help you understand if you are required to have an Operator ID and/or Flyer ID for your drone.
|Drones||Operator ID||Flyer ID|
|Below 250g – The drone is a toy||No||No|
|Below 250g – The drone is not a toy but has no camera||No||No|
|Below 250g – Not a toy with a camera (e.g., DJI Mini 3 Pro)||Yes||No|
|250 grams and above||Yes||Yes|
Although sub-250-gram drones do not require a Flyer ID, getting one is very recommended, as it costs you nothing and keeps you in the loop on drone laws and regulations across the UK.
If you want to fly commercially, you should be in possession of both Operator and Flyer IDs, no matter the drone category and weight.
How to register a drone, Operator ID, and Flyer ID in the UK
As we mentioned, there is no need to register a specific drone in the UK, regardless of size and make.
Frankly, I had difficulties even finding such options on the CAA portal. At the time of writing this article, there’s no need for drones to be registered.
However, we must register for Operator ID and Flyer ID.
The Operator ID in the UK is mandatory to cover any drones that will be flown, either by you or others.
You can register if you are over 18 or with a guardian.
It can be registered as an individual or organization.
The Operator will be responsible for any drones under its fleet labeled accordingly.
To register for an Operator ID, follow these steps:
- Step 1a: If you have created an account, as mentioned earlier, after you log in, on your registration details, you should have the option to Get an Operator ID. You can use this link and log in with your already registered credentials.
- Step 1b: You can start registering for an Operator ID from this link without the need to log in (at least for now).
- Step 2: Select if the Operator ID will be registered for an individual or organization. In both instances, the cost of Operator ID will be £10.33 a year and will be available only for a single year.
- Step 3: On the next step, enter your email address (not applicable if started from Step 1a).
- Step 4: Enter the code sent to the email address (not applicable if started from Step 1a).
- Step 5: Enter the insurance details, if applicable (will not be mandatory for drones under 20kg).
- Step 6: Confirm that you understand your responsibilities of owning an Operator ID. Tick all the boxes.
- Step 7: Enter your card details, pay the sum of £10.33 ($13), and follow the process onward.
Note: To log in and see your registration details, renew, and change information, follow this link.
The Flyer is responsible for flying the drone. They should have theoretical knowledge of how to fly it and drone regulations across the UK.
The Flyer can be the same as the Operator or another person.
Take your Flyer ID test, a theoretical exam of 40 questions, with a pass mark of 75 percent (30 answered right).
This free test will be available for five years, and you can take the test as many times as you like.
Moreover, according to CAA, you can look at the drone and model aircraft code during the test if you want.
If you want more information about the test, check this link.
To take the test, you must undergo the registration process, which now will be required (if you haven’t done it earlier).
Note: You must be at least 18 to get an Operator ID and at least 13 years old to get a Flyer ID by yourself.
» MORE: Best 4K Drones Under 250 Grams
Drone laws for recreational use
- For drones above 250 grams, you must have an Operator and Flyer ID.
- You can only fly your drone under 120 meters or 400 feet.
- Keep your drone in a visual line of sight (VLOS) and ensure good visibility of the surrounding airspace.
- You cannot fly your drone over crowds in the Open Category.
- You can only fly a drone near residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational sites if it’s under 250 grams, but you must keep a minimum distance of 150 meters if the drone is above 250 grams.
- Respect other people’s privacy, and don’t trespass with your drone.
- Do not fly in no-fly (restricted) zones near airports, prisons, or military bases. Keep a minimum distance of 5 km.
- To fly FPV, you will be required to have a spotter with you that will keep the drone in sight at all times.
- Check for any restrictions or hazards before flying your drone.
Drone laws for commercial use
If you want to earn money with a drone in the UK, your drone flights will be classified as commercial.
Luckily for you, there is no distinction between recreational and commercial use of a drone in the UK other than the fact that if you want to fly commercially, you need drone insurance.
Be aware that commercial flight insurance must comply with EC785/2004.
Although there’s no distinction between recreational and commercial drone use other than insurance, the same laws and regulations apply to both activities.
However, you need additional GVC and A2CofC certificates if you want to go further and have more complex and high-risk flights.
These may cover flights under the certified category.
A2CofC is a lot more complex and is necessary in some industries and areas where the GVC certificate doesn’t cover it.
If you’re looking for more information about commercial drone flights in the UK, I strongly recommend you check the following article:
What happens if I break drone laws in the UK?
Well, you don’t want to do that. Believe me.
Soon, the UK government will introduce on-spot penalties for drone pilots who do not obey drone laws or fly without a proper license or authorization.
If you fail to comply with the drone registration process and don’t have an Operator or Flyer ID, you can be fined up to £1,000, depending on the circumstances, and be summoned to court.
If you fly near an airport, you will get caught. The UK has invested millions of pounds into drone-detecting technologies after the Gatwick drone incident.
You can even face imprisonment if you endanger other lives due to careless drone flying.
That’s why we strongly recommend getting an Operator ID and, even if not required, a Flyer ID and staying in the loop on the current drone laws across the UK.
How to check for restricted areas in the UK
If you own a DJI drone or any other drone with a geofencing system, you should be blocked from lifting off in a restricted zone.
The DJI Geo Zone Map is an efficient way to check active restrictions in the UK.
Select the continent Europe and the United Kingdom to see restricted areas across the territory.
Moreover, you can select your DJI drone and see if flying with your drone is permitted in a specific area.
In the UK, you can check up-to-date applications and maps in real-time to see if an area is restricted.
» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in London?
Do I need insurance to fly a drone in the UK?
You don’t need insurance to fly a drone in the UK.
It’s simply not mandatory unless you want to fly commercially, as specified above.
We recommend getting insurance for your drone. This way, you will be covered if something happens; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
CAA contact details in the UK
If you want to contact CAA in the UK for registration issues, inquiries, and other services, you can find up-to-date information on the contact page of CAA UK.