Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are facing increased legislation ©123RF
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are facing increased legislation ©123RF

What drone regulations apply now?

UK regulations for unmanned aircraft have been used as a base for other countries’ rules

The UK’s Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) is one of the most mature laws governing aircraft, including drones.

There are no drone pilot licences in the UK, but commercial drone operators need to show pilot competence to be issued a “permission for commercial operations” (PfCO) by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This is needed to fly a drone commercially (a wide definition) or to fly a camera/surveillance drone within congested areas or within ANO-listed distances (some as close as 30 metres) to people or properties they don’t control.

Under the ANO, operators must not cause damage or permit the drone to endanger people or property. There are no design or certification standards for small drones, but the ANO limits some locations and circumstances, such as no flights directly over people and vehicles at any height, unless they are involved in the flight or at an event organiser and expected to follow safety precautions. 

Owners or operators are liable under CAA for injury or damage caused by manned aircraft, and it is likely that this would apply to drones too. So in the event of a drone accident, liability is likely to flow to the drone owner or operator to compensate the injured third party.

In Europe, EC Regulation 784/2004 requires all commercial drone operators to purchase third party liability insurance.

There are reports on privacy issues with drones, but no specific rules yet, so we can look to the new General Data Protection Regulation for a legal framework, plus existing guidance on CCTV systems. 

In the last few years, three key reports on drone privacy and data protection issues have been issued, acknowledging the risk posed by drone use and providing guidance to operators, manufacturers, policy makers, regulators and others on legal compliance. Whether hovering a drone over someone’s property amounts to trespass or nuisance is a complex issue.

The government is considering rules, from registering drones over 250g to testing for leisure users and an electronic ID tracking system. A private members’ bill is scheduled to have a second reading in February 2019. So watch this space.

Dr Sam De Silva is a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP

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