Drones – keeping it legal, with permission

In early 2019 drones, flying without permission, allegedly shut down the two largest airports in the UK - Heathrow and Gatwick. The incidents disrupted journeys for thousands of travellers.

There's still some doubt about whether there really was a drone at Gatwick and the Heathrow incident actually involved a model plane. But as a result, 'disruption' is almost the first word that comes to mind when people talk about drone flights.

So, time for a little reassurance. There are strict regulations governing drone flights - even if you're flying one for fun. And if you're flying one for commercial gain, especially in a 'congested area', you need permission from the CAA (the Civil Aviation Authority). Which can, of course, be withdrawn. What's more, the rules are about to get much tougher.

So if you want hire a pilot you must be certain they are qualified, and have permission to do what you're asking. Because if they don't, and something goes wrong, no insurance policy will cover you.

So what permission do you need?

There are some basic rules that apply to any 'drone' (including your child's model plane). You need to keep it:

  • in the operator's line of sight
  • no more than 500m from the operator
  • no more than 400ft above the ground
  • at least 50m away from people and property
  • and at least 150m away from crowds and built-up areas - unless you have Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) from the CAA

Some local councils - including Ipswich - have imposed blanket 'no fly' zones (for everyone except commercial drone pilots with a PfCO). And it won't surprise you to hear that the rules around airports are even tougher. In fact it isn't legal to fly a drone within 1km of an airport or an air traffic zone. That limit is about to go up to 5km - which is already what's advised. While the no-go areas around military bases like Wattisham are, of course, bigger still.

How do you get Permission for Commercial Operations?

It isn't easy, according to the CAA website. For starters you need to demonstrate remote pilot competence by:

  • showing a sufficient understanding of aviation theory (airmanship, airspace, aviation law and good flying practice).
  • passing a practical flight assessment (flight test).

You also need to develop basic procedures for conducting the type of flights you want to do. Then set them out in an Operations Manual. And if you need additional permissions, you need to prove you can work safely first. (It's called an Operating Safety Case.)

All of that sounds pretty restrictive, perhaps. But with skill, the right equipment, and the right permissions you'd be amazed what drone technology can achieve. Without breaking the rules.

The art of the possible

Want to film fast cars - or fast boats - from the air? Then you might think you'd need a helicopter - but there are drones that can keep the pace up (and the budget down). 'Chase' drones need special permissions and skilled pilots, but they do exist.

Want an aerial view of a crowd - which automatically rules out a drone? No problem. A good choice of zoom lenses can produce amazing results, even at regulation distances. And you can set up a cable cam pretty much anywhere - even, for example, above a wedding reception. It's safe, quiet, unobtrusive and very controllable. It's also legal.


The good news is that Birds I Images have all the necessary permission to deliver pretty much any form of aerial photography you need - as long as you're not in a restricted zone, of course. We also have an excellent choice of zoom lenses. A cable cam. And racing drones - with the necessary permission to use them.

So we won't be shutting down any airports. And that's a promise.

Like to know more? Give us a call on 07971 519729 or drop us an email. We'd be happy to discuss your needs. No cost, no obligation.

Flying commercial drones legally requires permission from the CAA - without it you can risk prosecution
error: Content is protected !!
Scroll to Top