Confused by the new regulations? Here’s the clarification!

You have probably heard about the changes to drone regulation which came in to place at the end of July. This article is designed to help you understand the changes to the regulations so that you can amend your operations manuals (and operations) to be compliant.

Firstly – why have these regulations come about?

The laws applying to commercial operations were last properly overhauled a few years back and some of the regulation was inconsistent – for example; article 94 of the air navigation order stated:

“The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft—”

There are criteria below the paragraph I have replicated above that I have not included; but essentially they potentially permit you to fly a sub 7kg UAV above 400ft from the surface – or rather; they don’t stop you. This is at odds with what is taught and what is printed on your permissions. The new changes have clarified the rules and harmonised the legality.

Now you know why the changes are made, lets look at them in more detail. The CAA have released a CAP detailing the changes which can be found here:

The main points you now need to be aware of are, definition of surface, operating close to aerodromes and standard permission heights.


Let’s look at these in turn:

Definition of surface

Previously the rules allowed you to take off, go straight up 400ft and go laterally in any direction 500m. Taking a very extreme circumstance, under the old rules this was theoretically possible:

Fig 1

Under the new rules you will not be allowed to do this. Your aircraft must not be any more than 400ft from the surface of the earth – in any direction.

Fig 2

Example 1 shows what is theoretically possible under the new rules. The aircraft is within 400ft of the nearest piece of surface – that being the cliff edge but more than 400ft straight down. Note that what you are used to thinking of as a lateral limit of 500m is now limited by the proximity of the surface – purely because of the shape of the terrain.

Example 2 shows us what is no longer allowed. The aircraft is being operated with the lateral 500m mindset – however this pushes the aircraft to a distance of more than 400ft from the surface – in this case the sea which is 600ft below.

Example 1 shows us how the rules have been tightened considerably in order to facilitate safer operation. However – if you were thinking of replicating the scenario shown in Example 1 – consider endangerment – the aircraft is still 600ft above anything that might be on the surface of the water and should something go wrong with the aircraft leading to an incident – you might be considered to be breaching the rules of endangerment under article 241 of the Air Navigation Order.

The above examples are an extreme depiction of the new rules. In actual fact, the chances of you conducting any operations where terrain is this prohibitive in the UK are very small but they show nicely the point about the definition of surface.

The CAA’s own diagram is a more realistic depiction of the sorts of terrain being overflown by the majority of PFCO holders:

Fig 3

As you can see in Fig 3 the 400ft limit over rolling terrain has a much lesser effect on the lateral distance that you can fly your aircraft and constitutes a much more realistic picture of the sorts of terrain that you will be flying over in much of the UK. Just remember, if you are on a very steep sided hill, consider your limits before you push out the range of the aircraft laterally.


Operating Close to Aerodromes

Another significant change to the rules relates to a much higher protection of aerodromes (Protected Aerodrome).

First, you need to know what a protected aerodrome is. Places like Heathrow and Gatwick are obvious – but what about the smaller sites? This is where you need to exercise caution. As a rule of thumb an airfield is protected if it is one of the following:

  • An Airport
  • Military
  • National licenced aerodrome

If you need to be absolutely sure what is a Protected Aerodrome you can go to the following websites which detail which aerodromes are considered protected:

Once you know whether your aerodrome is protected or not you can now apply the new regulation:

Aerodromes now have a specified set of zones – Inner and Outer.

  • The inner zone is simply the area contained within the perimeter fence or airfield boundary.
  • The outer zone parallels the inner zone by 1km outside of the perimeter fence.

Let’s use East Midlands as an example:

Fig 4

The perimeter of the airfield is very easy to spot on Google Earth. This constitutes your inner zone:

Fig 5

The outer zone is 1km from the perimeter of the aerodrome:

Fig 6

And as a whole looks something like this:

Fig 7

In practice you only really need to use a measuring tool to work out if you are more than 1km from the Aerodrome as most UAV operations are confined to smaller field sites due to battery and line of site issues. It is unlikely that you would need to generate a footprint diagram as shown in Fig 7.

So what do these zones mean?

  • If you want to fly in the Inner protected zone AT ANY TIME – you mustseek permission from air traffic control. You must comply with your standard permissions unless an exemption has been granted by the CAA. This makes sense as you are flying inside the aerodrome itself.
  • If you want to fly in the outer zone you must stay within your standard permissions unless an exemption has been granted. If you are intending to fly during hours of ATC watch OR airfield opening (if there is no ATC present) then you mustget permission to fly from the airfield operator/ATC.

If you are outside of the hours of watch and flight information services are not available then you can fly without permission.

If you call ATC you can determine when flight information services are provided.

Be careful with trying to operate in the outer zone:

Fig 8

Site A is a reasonable choice of operating area; and as long as your planning and safety policy was robust should be approved by ATC during hours of watch.

Site B will be refused during hours of watch and at times of busy airfield activity. Site B sits on the approach/departure to the runway at East Midlands airport and thus you would impact on airfield operations if you attempted to fly there. However – there may be a gap in the flying programme that you can exploit during the hours of watch if the job was required.

Understand – if you are given a window to fly in Site B and you subsequently over run that timing you could be found guilty of endangerment under article 240 of the Air Navigation Order.

Standard Permission Heights

From the earlier extract of CAP393 you see that sub 7kg was omitted in certain circumstances from the 400ft rule. The wording in Article 94 is for the most part unchanged as a special set of circumstances apply for aircraft weighing more than 7kg with respect to controlled airspace. However a new set of addendums to Article 94 have been added, of which this one clarifies the height rules:

Small unmanned aircraft: height restrictions on flights

94A (1) The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, and the remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly it at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface, unless the permission of the CAA has been obtained.

Hopefully this helps to clarify the new rules that come into force today. We will be issuing another of these bulletins in a few days to tidy up the rest of the rules including SUA Operators and Remote pilots along with competency and registration.

Fly Safe!

Daniel Alward-Smith – CFI RUSTA