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Limitations on Recreational Drone Use in the United Kingdom

by Shahram Shirkhani

In recent years, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, has expanded beyond the military to a variety of industries. Now used for purposes such as medical supply delivery and agriculture, drones have also made their way into the consumer sector. Decreasing prices and improved functionality have made UAVs increasingly attractive to civilians, who use them for everything from aerial photography to simple recreational flights. However, as drone ownership among the general population increases, so does the need for clear UAV legislation.
While the House of Lords EU Committee recently suggested, in an effort to ensure compliance with aviation laws, that all owners of commercial and civilian drones should be required to register their aircraft, UK drone laws have not yet become so stringent. At present, consumers can purchase drones with minor limitations so long as they obey certain requirements while piloting them. Civilians may use drones weighing less than 20 kilograms for private purposes but cannot fly them within 50 meters of a person, building, vehicle, or vessel, and must remain 150 meters outside of congested areas.
UAV users must also keep their drones within sight, staying below 400 feet in altitude and within 500 horizontal meters. All recreational drone pilots wishing to exceed these limits, as well as parties using drones for commercial purposes, must receive permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority by proving that they are “sufficiently competent” in drone use and aviation law.                            
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