CAA Drone Code - 2016

Drone use is growing at a rapid rate in the UK and our skies are some of the busiest anywhere in the world. has been designed to help ensure that drone users in the UK can easily access the information they need about how to fly their drones safely and legally, without endangering others.

The revised code (November 2016) turns the five main safety tips into a mnemonic, spelling DRONE, to make it easier to remember:

Don’t fly near airports or airfields
Remember to stay below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people
Observe your drone at all times
Never fly near aircraft
Enjoy responsibly

In 2016 the CAA undertook industry-first research into drone user behaviour and attitudes towards responsible drone use and the future of drones generally: view/download the report.

You can find a list of approved commercial drone operators at: CAP1361: Small UnmannedAircraft (SUA) operators holding a valid CAA permission

You can find details about the requirements to fly a drone commercially from the CAA at Commercial industry | Civil Aviation Authority

The European Aviation Safety Agency have a drone safety video here:

NATS has produced a useful feature with top tips to help you fly your drone safely. Read it at

NATS have created this video to remind drone users of the checks drone pilots should go through before taking to the skies, showing how they compare to those undertaken by General Aviation pilots:

A great video on the basic drone regulations has been made by the First Person View drone association:

I keep seeing conflicting statements here and there regarding the altitude limit and whether it is actually law to stay below 400ft as a hobbyist.

Need to investigate more on this.

OK, so looking at the following from the CAA, I read it that the 400ft altitude limit does not apply to the Mavic when used by a hobbyist

“if your drone weighs more than 7kg, additional rules apply if you fly in certain types of airspace and you must not fly above 400ft above the surface”


Please correct me if I am wrong on this as it is very important

I take your point, our Mavics are under 1KG so they technically don’t qualify for those ‘additional rules’ that apply to the 7KG to 20KG bracket.

However, Cripps (£25m+ law firm) say:

Drones should also never be flown beyond the normal unaided ‘line of sight’ of the person operating it. This is generally measured as 500m horizontally or 400ft vertically.

Source: Thinking | Cripps

They use the word ‘generally’, which could mean there might be occasion where that’s not the case?

I don’t understand how you can supposedly see 500m horizontally but only 120m vertically. What’s that all about?

It’d be interesting to get some clarification on <1KG drones for sure!


here we go, i’ve got some information for this, obtained partly through CAA, partly through GCHQ and the Police.

when I first flew my drone i had an issue with it, I asked for some help on another forum (where i was asked to join here) and sure enough a reply came in (the unhelpful kind… the shouty kind. actually from someone who is on this forum!!)

i was told i’m not allowed to fly in a class D zone… AT ALL… etc etc.

now i’d read the drone code… but my better half being a contractual solicitor with a large firm… she went and read the legislation (because she that likes that s**t)

here’s the rundown.

under CAP 722 UAV Operations UK, 1.36 under ANO 2009 Article 66.

Operators of a SUA (drone) with a mass of under 7kg are not required to gain a NSF approval from ATC (air traffic control) to fly in A,C,D,E airspace or an active ATZ


may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied the flight cane be safely be made.

MUST maintain direct, UNAIDED visual contact with the aircraft

here’s the thing… how many of you can see your mavic unaided. not VLOS as in i can see the lighthouse, she’s flying around it. ACTUALLY see the bird? and if you can, what was the planet krypton like before you left for earth?

the legislation in place is woefully inadequate, it wasn’t designed for new smaller drones. this is where GCHQ come in.

they are a security risk, my father in law works there and they’ve been working on the government to change this for a while. the new legislation has been put together and will come in once ratified next year… that will finally firm up the law, clear up the text, ensure that we KNOW where we can and can’t fly.

as it stands the mavic is subject to some of the law… not being allowed above crowds, not too close to buildings (even the CAA can’t tell me if the 400ft limit is actual law for these birds… but did suggest not to fly above as it’s common sense)

the police, have NO IDEA. literally unless you’re flying your drone around a football stadium during a match, or around a prison with a bag attached to it… they don’t actually care, remember a police officer cannot arrest you unless he knows WHY you’ve broken the law… they aren’t touching us at the moment because the law is as clear as mud.

so i pose the hypothetical. you are flying your bird, she’s within 400ft, and not over a crowd, not near a building, however you can’t actually see her as it’s a blue sky, she drops out of the sky and hits a civilian walking the dog. from 390ft. your public liability is null and void, you cannot see that drone UNAIDED.

expect this to be massively firmed up, i’ve asked to be made aware as soon as the draft legislation is published so we can see EXACTLY what we’re up against.

1 Like

And this could well be the key part of the issue.

Back in 2009, the types of aircraft we’re hooning around with these days weren’t readily available on the highstreet like they are now.

Agreed, and like you said, that’s just common sense really! I’d imagine your liability insurance is out the window if you so much as thought of doing any of those things.

If I fly out 400ft and don’t even blink while doing it, I can see the Mavic a fair way out (not measured it before, will try on my next flight) but I have two super-bright Strobon CREEs attached to it.


Because I can’t bloody see it otherwise :roll_eyes:

And again, even if I can see it, I only need to look down at the monitor, look back up and BANG! It’s absolutely vanished from the sky!! I know roughly where it was as I always turn my body to face the bird (for this very reason) but that’s all it takes, look away for a split second and it’s soooooo hard to acquire it in the sky again.

I really hope it is. The current regs are just soooooo unclear, they can be interpreted multiple different ways.

Will that be a public document while in draft phase? If so, please share it with us all here :+1:

Not quite true.

To quote from my Dorset “Know Your Stuff” card.
“Any constable may…
Where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting an offence has been committed, arrest any person he/she has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be guilty of the offence.”

Yeah. Try it.

If the police officer can’t actually tell you why you’ve broken the law… it won’t stand up at prosecution.

I only know this because I was from the generation who had their first cars at the time fast and the furious was released… so I had purple neon lights under my corsa (I know… I know…)

And despite being done on numerous occasions, I was never once prosecuted for the offence as they couldn’t work out which offence I was actually committing!

1 Like

Whilst you’re right technically you can still be arrested. If it gets dropped later because of lack of evidence then so be it, but the arrest could still happen.

1 Like

Don’t get me started on that.

If you are innocent but arrested and no charges brought, discharged or found innocent you are then not eligible for a visa waiver to United States and few other countries.

Just being arrested at any point means you need to apply for Visa and attend interview at embassy.

It’s amazing how a matter outwith your control when your innocent can leave such a lasting impact on your life.

Makes my blood boil

Rant over.

1 Like

I agree it’s totally shit but it could happen. In fairness though most officers either don’t really know anything about them or don’t care if you’re not breaking the rules or doing something dangerous. I can state that apart from the few officious jobsworths most cops will just be curious. Being a cop myself, on a unit that has a drone department and working with loads of cops (obviously) most people are in the “wow” or “zzz” zone.

1 Like

Thank you JayForceOne,

Good to hear from a knowledgeable police officer. The ‘off duty officers’ in my encounter clearly were unaware of the regulations. Your post prompted me to find out if Leicester Police have a drone unit and a short search netted this information:- which I have printed and added to my folder of documents to carry when flying.

It would be great if Police drone units could provide awareness training for their colleagues and improve the overall awareness that the majority of recreational users are responsible adults with a good knowledge of the regulations, and how to identify illegal operation.

Thanks - David.

This is even more helpful and defines misuse of drones as anti-social behaviour - worth a quick read.

1 Like

Hmm, I get a little annoyed by statements like this:

Also be careful if your drone has a camera. Ask for permission before flying and recording in an area where there are other people. Some people may not want to be on camera

They may not, but in the U.K., in a public area, there is no right to privacy and no right to not have your photo taken. Which is not to say you won’t get a fist in the face, but you have no legal right to refuse. It’s a sensitive topic in these modern times, but that is no different for children (in a park, for example). Nor for different religions.

Police officers have the right to stop and search, as noted above, jumped up security guards do not. Nobody has the right to confiscate, damage equipment or demand you delete photos (unless under arrest).

Private areas, which includes shopping centres (not high streets, but complexes), churches etc are different.

Amateur Photographer has an excellent piece here on this:

Clearly being aggressive and confrontational is not going to work, but I do get annoyed when comments (from the police, for goodness sake) single out a camera. It doesn’t mention smartphones, cameras with long lenses, GoPros clipped on a rucksack, helmet cams, body cams, dash cams, but singles out flying cams. A camera is a camera, and the rules are the same.

I’ve a good mind to write to them, that comment is really not helping, and fixes in people’s mind that drone cameras are bad.

1 Like

Hi everyone.
Drone code feels very ambiguous at best. I get they are trying the KISS principal but it’s not especially helpful.

50m from people and buildings, but 150 from built up areas and crowds… The pictures show built up areas as multi story and buildings show like a house… So does that mean I can fly over my housing estate out of town of I’m over 50m?

What are roads classed as?

What are cars classed as? Is it different if the cars are in motion?

Can I fly over the beach?

Is the drone code law or is it a guide?

As stated above what’s the difference between a commercial octocopter and a recreational quad? I know which I’d rather be hit by, although none world be preferable.

Seems to raise a load of questions when you start thinking about it…

Just my two penneths worth…

1 Like

Agree drone code has many interpretations but at end of day just a guide to stay within the ANO.

It’s the Air navigation order that people should read as that’s what would be quoted for any prosecution.

This pdf from CAA explains built up or congested areas better.


Thanks Calum but this is vague also…

A ‘Congested Area’ is defined in Article 255 of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2009. The definition states that a ‘Congested Area’ means any area in relation to a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes. Operations of SUA within congested areas may be permitted in specific circumstances as described in remainder of this Information Notice.

Does this mean if there are multiple dwellings, commercial properties etc etc within the area? And what is the definition of the area?

I guess the easy answer is, don’t fly within 150m, or over fly, anything. But then pretty much every code that has some sort of structure has breached this regulation.

1 Like

It’s NOT up to the police to say if you are guilty of an offence mate. That is the courts job.
The CPS only sends cases to the courts if they think there is a chance to prove it.

1 Like

I’m interested in the definition of “unaided” visual contact.

I know it means you can’t fly 800ft up in the air and then rely on binoculars to see the drone, but for me as a short sighted person wearing glasses all the time, I’d struggle to see my drone any further than 100ft “unaided”.

I’d like to think that wearing normal spectacles would be considered “unaided”, but any third party liability insurance company would surely see that as a easy escape route in the event of an incident.