Operations and maintenance

One drone, one pilot

Does the ‘one drone, one pilot’ rule apply in your jurisdiction?

With respect to recreational drone operations for drones weighing under 20kg, a drone pilot must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the drone pursuant to article 94(3) of Air Navigation Order 2016 (SI 2016/765) (ANO), as amended. Consequently, a drone pilot may only operate one drone absent an exemption from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

 

An exemption may be obtained from the CAA with respect to this provision or as part of the exemption for an operation involving drones weighing over 20kg. The Operating Safety Case submitted as part of the exemption process relates to the unmanned aircraft system, which may include multiple unmanned aircraft within one system. Multiple unmanned aircraft may be operated using swarming technology (where multiple drones are controlled collectively rather than individually). The Operating Safety Case will need to demonstrate that the operation can be conducted in a safe manner.

 

Maintenance

Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of drones?

There are no specific rules relating to maintenance for recreational use of drones weighing under 20kg.

 

For any operation requiring a permission or an exemption (ie, any operation that is not an under 20kg recreational drone operation within the parameters of the reduced provisions of the ANO), detail of the process for reporting defects and maintenance is required in the application to the CAA. This may include full details of the maintenance regime of the drone including timescales, procedures, spare part validation and record keeping.

 

Basic operational rules and restrictions

What rules and restrictions apply to flights performed in ‘visual line of sight’ (VLOS) and ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS)? Is there a distinction in this regard?

Article 94(3) ANO requires visual line of sight (VLOS) operations for small unmanned aircraft. This means that the remote pilot must be able to clearly see the drone at all times in order to manoeuvre it to avoid collisions. Corrective spectacles can be used, but the use of any vision enhancing device (eg, binoculars) is prohibited. VLOS operations are normally accepted to be limited to 500 metres, but this depends on the size of the drone and whether visual contact can be maintained.

 

Beyond visual line of sight) (BVLOS) operations for drones of any size are prohibited absent an exemption from the CAA. BVLOS operations are drone operations that are not conducted in the visual line of sight of the remote pilot (or a competent observer). To undertake BVLOS operations, an operator will need to apply for an exemption from the CAA evidencing in an Operating Safety Case that the BVLOS operation can be conducted safely. The primary consideration is whether the operation can mitigate the risk of collision (with aircraft, object and people). With the exception of a segregated airspace, at a technical level this requires a detect and avoid (DAA) system that is sufficiently advanced to operate at least as well as the ability of a pilot to see and avoid potential collisions.

 

What rules and restrictions apply to critical and non-critical operations? Is there a distinction in this regard?

The critical and non-critical operations distinction does not exist in the UK, but it is equivalent to the distinctions that the UK exercises with respect to which operations require a permission or exemption from the CAA.

 

Non-critical operations are equivalent to recreational drones weighing under 20kg being operated within the parameters of the reduced provisions of the ANO, as amended (ie, without the need for any application for permission or exemption). Critical operations are equivalent to all operations that require a permission or exemption.

 

With respect to night-time operations, provided direct visual contact can be maintained (in accordance with article 94(3) ANO) there is no prohibition on operating a small unmanned aircraft for recreation purposes at night. For any application for a permission or an exemption for an operation that will involve VLOS night flying, the Operating Safety Case will need to address operating procedures at night, including aircraft and landing site lighting, hazard identification and weather limitations.

Transport operations

Is air transport via drone (eg, cargo and mail) regulated in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements, limitations and restrictions apply?

Mail and cargo delivery is at an early stage of development in the UK and there are a number of technological challenges associated with its implementation. Any such operation would constitute a commercial operation and would invariably need to be operated BVLOS and within congested areas.

 

An operation involving transport via drone would require an exemption from the CAA. The Operating Safety Case would need to satisfactorily deal with aviation risks relating to BVLOS, operations in congested areas (including take-off and landing), the effect of differing cargo weight on the flight envelope (including payload maximums), cargo release mechanisms, and a system coordinating drone traffic if there are multiple cargo drones operating in the same airspace (amongst other potential safety issues).

Do any specific provisions governing consumer protection and tracking systems apply with respect to cargo and delivery operations via drone?

There are no consumer protection and tracking provisions that are relevant to cargo drone operations in the UK. However, as stated, this area is in an early stage of regulatory development in the UK.

Insurance requirements

What insurance requirements apply to the operation of drones?

Pursuant to article 2(b) of Regulation (EC) 785/2004, there are no requirements for ‘model aircraft’ with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) of less than 20kg to have insurance cover. The United Kingdom has defined a ‘model aircraft’ as a small unmanned aircraft with an MTOM of less than 20kg used for sport or recreational purposes only.

 

In relation to all other small unmanned aircraft (including commercial operations) and drones with an MTOM of 20kg or more, insurance cover must be sought that meets the requirements of Regulation (EC) 785/2004. Regulation (EC) 785/2004 requires drone operators to have insurance cover for each and every flight covering their aviation-specific liability with respect to cargo and third parties (passenger and baggage insurance not being relevant to drone operations).

 

For drones with an MTOM of less than 500kg, minimum insurance for third party liability is 750,000 special drawing rights (SDR) (article 7). Minimum insurance in respect of cargo liability is 22 SDR (article 6, as amended by the revised limits in Regulation (EU) 2020/1118).

Safety requirements

What safety requirements apply to the operation of drones?

The entire structure of the CAA permissions and exemptions process is safety driven. Low risk and low complexity operations for drones weighing less than 20kg can take place within the limitations of the ANO, as amended. Since 30 November 2019, basic pilot competency is required to be evidenced and for drones under 20kg and over 250g, the SUA operator must obtain a certificate of registration.

For medium risk/complexity operations, operators are required to submit an Operating Safety Case and obtain permission/exemption from the CAA. The level of detail required in the OSC (ie, whether risk assessments and systems descriptions must be provided in addition to an operations manual) is based on the risk of the operation. The process requires the operator to have evidenced drone piloting competency and a full appreciation of the risks of the operation (and how those risks are mitigated).

 

For high risk/complexity operations, full certification is required from the CAA as if the operation was a manned operation. This includes certification of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the UAS operator and the remote pilots.

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

25 August 2020.