Quad Copters (Drones) – “Do’s & Don’ts”

The legality of Flying Drones (Multirotor Model Aircraft) when operated out doors.

There does not seem to be a week that goes past when there is not some article in either the press or on television about the problems being caused by the illegal use of these flying machines. Already there have been several high profile near accidents and several hefty fines being imposed on those who appear to be ignorant of the ‘do’s’ and ‘do nots’ of flying Drones, and many people may be contemplating purchasing a Drone believing they can be flown anywhere.—-they cannot.

N.B. Within the model flying fraternity these aircraft have always been referred to as Quads or Multirotor due to their construction.

Now Drones, unlike fixed wing model aircraft or model helicopters, have control systems which allow them to be flown by novices with no previous experience in or understanding of flying models. They are a practical “off the shelf” proposition compared to flying a fixed wing model which typically takes several months of instruction to reach a standard where the pilot is considered safe to fly solo. (The Dornoch club offers such instruction for its members who all carry liability insurance issued by the British Model Flying Association, BMFA)

The following is a brief overview of the key legal issues associated with these models and may save anyone finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, including those of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who govern all aspects of aircraft in UK airspace including models. (The CAA’s are referred to as Air Navigation Orders).

The relevant Articles within the Air Navigation Orders are 137, 138, 166, 167, however the key points for anyone wishing to fly one of these models outdoors (especially those with cameras) are as follows.

Article 138:-

A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.


A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft.

Article 166:-

The person in charge of a drone may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.

The person in charge of a drone must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

The person in charge of a drone must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.

Article 167:-

Unless approved by the CAA, the person in charge of a drone must not fly the aircraft in any of the following circumstances:-

  1. over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
  2. over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
  3. within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft; or
  4. within 50 metres of any person other than the pilot or his/her assistant.
  5. within 30 metres of any person during take-off or landing other than the pilot or his/her assistant.

As ever a little common sense goes a long way towards interpreting and complying with the relevant legal requirements.

The primary aim of the various Air Navigation Order provisions is to prevent members of the public being endangered and full size aviation being endangered, to a lesser degree these provisions also help to limit the potential for causing nuisance and for invading privacy.

Another primary consideration is the purpose of the flight and the appropriate liability insurance required. If the flying of a model aircraft with a camera on board is recognised as a sport and recreational activity by the CAA then it can be covered under the terms of the insurance provided the BMFA membership package. However, where a flight is made for payment or the purpose is in any way commercial then it becomes classed as aerial work by the CAA and requires an exemption to the Air Navigation Order to be issued in order to take place lawfully and relevant insurance taken out. Details of aerial work and exemption application information can be obtained through the CAA website www.caa.co.uk


  • Be familiar with the legal requirements relating to your chosen activity.
  • Do not endanger person or property.
  • Ensure that the proposed flying location is appropriate and safe.
  • Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.
  • Make sure you can see your drone at all times and don’t fly higher than 400 feet
  • Flights being used for commercial purposes require prior CAA approval.
  • Do not constitute a nuisance.
  • Do not invade privacy.
  • Ensure that appropriate liability insurance cover is in place to protect you in the event of an incident leading to a claim against you.

For further information on this or any other issue associated with aero-modelling (including insurance) then please contact one of the Committee members.