Safe airspace for all
Drones represent an exciting development in aviation technology and offer new opportunities for emergency services, businesses and individuals across the globe.
However, they also pose an increasing challenge for air traffic control.
At NATS, we want to ensure the UK’s busy skies are safe and accessible for everyone, and we’re working hard to enable the safe integration of drones with manned aircraft to ensure all airspace users can operate safely alongside each other.
We’re developing and adopting new unmanned traffic control technologies aimed at streamlining unmanned flight approvals processes.
We’re also establishing unified air traffic management (UTM) capabilities that will future-proof our systems to provide safe and secure air traffic control services for everyone who wants to fly any type of aircraft in our skies.
Since November 2019 it has been a legal requirement in the UK for anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft weighing between 250g and 20kg to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and pass an online education package. Further guidance on this is provided in the resources and FAQS below:
Controlled airspace requirements (Class A,B,C,D,E) do not apply to UAS operating within the Open category, however a number of airspace restrictions exist within the UK and these apply equally to both unmanned and manned aircraft. These areas are referred to as either: Prohibited Areas, Restricted Areas or Danger Areas.
Within the Specific category, an operator may be required to obtain permission to enter controlled airspace within the terms of the authorisation. This is dependent on the type of operation and the mitigations provided within the safety case.
Information about Flight Restriction Zones (FRZs), including interactive maps highlighting all UAS restriction zones, can be found on the AIS website https://nats-uk.ead-it.com/cms-nats/opencms/en/uas-restriction-zones
Please allow up to 14 days for your flight authorisation to come through although, if the airspace area in which you wish to fly is especially sensitive, your application process may take longer.
It is a legal requirement to have two IDs in place before flying most drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK. These are issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and can be obtained at https://register-drones.caa.co.uk.
If you want to fly your drone inside any aerodrome Flight Restriction Zone, or your preferred flight plan includes flying through any part of an FRZ, you are required by law to seek and obtain air traffic control permission in advance. This can be done by filing an application on https://nsf.nats.aero.
All drone pilots are responsible for their aircraft at all times and it’s important that everyone flies safely and responsibly.
You can find out more by viewing our free online training course for hobbyist drone operators.
Remote pilot qualifications do not discern between flying a drone for leisure or for commercial gain but they do vary depending on the Category of operation.
The competency requirements for remote pilots flying in the Open Category vary depending on the subcategory of drone. Further details of the requirements for flying in the Open Category can be found here: https://www.caa.co.uk/consumers/remotely-piloted-aircraft/drones-flying-in-the-open-category/.
To fly in the Specific Category, the UAS operator is required to hold an Operational Authorisation (OA) which requires their remote pilots to hold a General Visual Line Of Sight Certificate (GVC). Further details of the OA and GVC can be found here: https://www.caa.co.uk/consumers/remotely-piloted-aircraft/flying-in-the-specific-category/.
If you see a drone being flown illegally, you should immediately report the incident to the police by telephoning 101.
If you are a drone user or otherwise connected with the aviation industry, you can report your concerns via the CHIRP website by clicking on the CHIRP online confidential reporting tab.
If you witness a dangerous or potentially unsafe drone-related incident, you should report the circumstances to the CAA.
You can do this online using its Occurrence Reporting system.
Anyone witnessing a dangerous or potentially unsafe airspace event should report the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority and/or to the police by telephoning 101; if you are directly involved in the incident as an aviation professional you should use the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting (MOR) system on the CAA website https://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/Make-a-report-or-complaint/MOR/Occurrence-reporting/.
If, as an aviation professional, a member of the drone community, or a drone pilot, you are concerned that a drone is being flown irresponsibly, intrusively, dangerously or in a manner that may have an impact on airspace safety, you can report your concerns via the CAA-sponsored CHIRP confidential reporting programme, which is accessible via the CHIRP website https://chirp.co.uk/aviation/.
Where you can and can’t fly is described on the CAA website https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/drone-code/where-you-can-fly.
You should stay well away from airports, airfields, spaceports and aircraft. Most airports, airfields and spaceports have a Flight Restriction Zone (FRZ). You can find details of FRZs and other airspace restrictions that are relevant to drones at https://www.nats.aero/airspace/drones/.
If you want to fly your drone inside any Flight Restriction Zone, or if you plan to fly through any part of an FRZ, you will need to obtain air traffic control permission in advance by submitting a non-standard flight application at https://nsf.nats.aero.