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Reporting a drone

What is a drone?

These aircraft have many names: UAVs, Small Unmanned Aircraft, Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft (SUSA), Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), or simply just “drone”. They all mean the same thing: an aircraft that is unmanned but controlled from the ground by a pilot using a remote controller, similar to a remote controlled car.

Some drones have propellers, while others have fixed wings, and not all of them carry cameras. But regardless of the type of drone, there are strict rules and regulations that you must abide by when you fly it. You are responsible for each flight, you are responsible for avoiding collisions, and should an accident occur as a result of your drone, you will be liable for any compensation or criminal proceedings.

When you should report a drone

As a general rule, unless the drone pilot has permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), he or she should not be flying within 150m of a “congested area” (e.g. town or city) or at a public event.

The definition of a congested area is: “Congested area” in relation to a city, town or settlement, means any area which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes” When the pilot does have permission from the CAA, such flights are usually restricted to flight distances no closer than 50m from persons, vehicles and structures that are not “under the control” of the pilot. Direct over-flight at any height is not usually permitted.

These restrictions mean that the use of a drone in public places is limited and often not suitable or legal unless the operator has received the appropriate permission from the CAA.

Our enforcement strategy has recently changed to better reflect the balance of capabilities between CAA and local Police services. The Police often have greater resources, response times and powers of investigation than the CAA. To support this, CAA has now agreed with the Police that they will take the lead in dealing with drone misuse incidents, particularly at public events, that may contravene aviation safety legislation or other relevant criminal legislation.

We recommend that any such incidents are reported directly to the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

Certain types of drone flights, i.e. those that may be endangering an aircraft or are made in the vicinity of an airport or airfield, in addition to being reported to the Police, should also be specifically reported to the CAA using form FCS 1520.

The CAA remit is limited to safety and does not include concerns over privacy or broadcast rights.