Legal matters and obtaining consent

The legal implication of flying drones is a rapidly evolving field with many grey areas. New makes and models are becoming available every month, with new capabilities, such as first person view and follow-me technology, changing the field constantly. New cases – such as the first UK drone conviction of a recreational pilot who flew near the BAE System submarine-testing facility – mean that legislation is changing just as fast. The below pointers are not meant to be taken as legal advice, but guidance to help you find out the latest legislation for your area and situation.

The principle point to understand is that you, whether as drone operator or the project leader, are legally responsible for the safe conduct of each flight. Take time to understand the rules before you launch your project, as failure to comply could lead to a criminal prosecution or worse, the injury of a participant or audience member.

The CAA provide information and guidance associated with the operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). You should refer to their website at for all the latest guidance, and information on obtaining licenses.

In general, you may operate a small (<20kg) drone for recreational reasons – provided it does NOT have a camera – if you follow these rules:

  • The UAV must be kept within line of sight at all times by the pilot – 500 metres horizontally and 400 feet vertically. You’re also not allowed to work around the line of sight rule by having spotters or relying on someone not in control of the drone relaying messages about its position. Operation beyond the distances stated need special approval from the CAA.
  • The pilot must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.
  • Drones must not be flown within 150 metres of any congested area, within 150 metres of an outdoor assembly of more than 1,000 people, or within 50 metres of any individual except during take-off and landing. You’re also not allowed to fly drones within 50 metres of any other vehicle, structure or property that’s not under your control.

If you ATTACH a camera to the drone, you must be aware of the following:

  • Unmanned aircraft with a camera attached or built-in are classified as an unmanned surveillance aircraft. UAVs with cameras are not allowed to fly twithin 30 metres of any inidividual (rather than 50 metres)

If you are flying commercially in any capacity, or wish to engage in any flight that does not conform strictly to the rules above, you must seek permission from the CAA. If you think that you may sell or otherwise distribute to any gain footage taken with a drone, it’s best to err on the side of caution and apply: even drone enthusiasts posting drone films on Youtube channels that show ads have received enquiries from the FAA (the US Federal Aviation Authority); though this may prove an isolated occurrence, it’s a clear indication of the seriousness with which the above rules are enforced.

No fly zones

Check the no fly zones around your area before flying to ensure you keep a safe distance from such areas:

Pilot licences

There is no pilot’s license for drones in the UK, but the CAA has recognized training centres who can provide a nationally recognized qualification, which allows you then to fly commercially. The CAA will require evidence of pilot competence before issuing any permissions. See their training centre news here.

Data protection and consent

If you are flying a drone with a camera and collect identifiable images of people, be aware that you will need to conform to the Data Protection Act regarding the use of those images. If there’s any chance you may want to use the images in any public way, it’s best to seek consent of anyone whose image may be recognisable in your footage or stills.

This is especially important where children are involved – seek permission from a legal guardian before filming or photographing with a drone near any area where a child may be present.

In our own research and hands-on labs, the Project Daedalus team followed these procedures. We’ve shared our own consent forms below for reference, but please use your best judgement to adapt them to your specific situation.



Next page in toolkit: Tracking your drone