Is your drone legal?

02 December 2016

Drones continue to grow in popularity and the sheer number and variety now on sale – they can range in price from tens of pounds to thousands – means it can be quite hard to know which one to choose.

If you’re think of buying one, particularly if you’re considering buying one from overseas, you need to realise that not all drones you find for sale may be legal in the UK.

What are the rules?

Within the UK the use of radio apparatus – including drones – is regulated by law. This ensures that only equipment which is safe and does not cause harmful interference is placed on the market.

Radio apparatus can only be used under the terms and conditions of an Ofcom licence or a licence exemption.

Most domestic drones will be classed as licence exempt. This means they don't need a licence so long as the drone is 'CE' marked and it meets certain requirements.

What about first person view (FPV)?

If your drone has a video facility that transmits images from the drone back to the control unit for first person view (FPV), it will probably use the licence exempt 5.8GHz band. This allows for a maximum transmit power of 25 milliwatts.

What if my drone uses more power or is on a different frequency?

Using apparatus that does not meet the conditions of the licence exemption - or is not specifically licensed - is an offence.

Some offences can attract fines of up to £5000 and/or six months imprisonment. The courts can also confiscate anything used in connection with the offence.

How can I tell if my drone is legal?

It will have a clear and permanent 'CE' mark (including on the packaging and accompanying documents like instructions);

All the required product/packaging/instructions marking and labelling, and other required information, will also be present and it will also have a Declaration of Conformity (DoC).

If you have any concerns about a product, check with the supplier or manufacturer before you buy.

Flying your drone

Once you’ve bought your drone, you’ll want to take to the skies.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published a Dronecode which includes a summary of the rules for flying your drone.

For example, you will need to:

  • Stay below 400ft (120m)
  • Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
  • Never fly near aircraft or airports.

Read the Dronecode.