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Flying Drones: What Are the Laws?

Before taking flight, you may wonder what the rules are concerning the use of civilian and commercial drones. Be it for fun or business use, in the wrong hands, drones have the potential to prompt a public liability compensation claim, should you as the pilot cause upset or injury.


Drones are no longer linked only to military. Increasingly sophisticated in technology and affordable, the civilian use of drones now extends to use for surveillance for businesses and land-owners, with more consumer-grade devices available as modern day remote-controlled toys with filming capabilities.

Recently, a near-miss involving a Lufthansa plane and a drone at Warsaw airport has, for many, outlined the need for effective regulation of the ownership and illegal use of drones. The crew of the Lufthansa Embraer ERJ-195 state that the aircraft narrowly avoided the drone and, if it hadn’t, the results may well have been of a catastrophic proportion. This is only one example of many scenarios in which the unrestricted use of a remote-controlled drone could cause harm to others – not to mention questions of an invasion of privacy.

The Rules for Flying a Drone

So what are the rules for owning and flying a drone? The laws are, as yet, few and evolving. Currently, you may purchase and fly a drone weighing less than 20kg, as long as it is not for commercial purposes. You must fly the drone “within sight” so that it does not rise above 400 feet or further ahead than 500 metres; to exceed this, you would need to request permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the same goes for anyone wishing to use a drone for commercial use.

Recently, the House of Lords EU Committee called for it to be made a compulsory requirement for all commercial and civilian drones to be registered. The compulsory registration of drones would allow the government to manage traffic and safety concerns. 

There is clear ruling that says you can’t fly a drone within 150 metres of a busy, populated area or within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or structure that is not owned by you. This then makes flying your drone in a public area a bad idea, as the potential for breaching these rules would likely be difficult to manage. You may well consider how competently you believe you can control the remote-controlled drone and the consequences of any damages caused if you should lose control and someone is injured.

In a previous blog concerning the risk we owe to others, I discussed the importance of insurance in the event of a public liability compensation claim. Insurance would protect your drone in the event of a crash, but most importantly cover you if you were to cause someone injury, or if the use of the drone and its recording equipment causes upset that may be construed as harassment or an invasion of privacy.

Tristan Hallam is a Practice Group Leader at Slater and Gordon Lawyers, specialising in Occupiers and Public Liability.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation for people injured in accidents that were not their fault.

If you were injured in public in an accident that wasn’t your fault, call our Personal Injury Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help you. Your claim will be assessed on a No Win, No Fee basis.

What do you think the rules should be when it comes to owning and flying a drone? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

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