The new UK drone registration laws come into effect on 30 November 2019.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has released the new UK drone registration and education scheme. The followings are important key points:
- The registration will become mandatory from 30 November 2019.
- Anyone in the UK owning a drone that weighs between 250g and 20kg needs to be registered as its legal owner or operator (Operator ID).
- Once you have your Operator ID number, you can apply it to multiple drones via stickers. There will be an annual fee of around £9.
- Anyone flying drones in the same weight category, regardless of ownership, will have to pass a free online competency test (Flyer ID).
- The competency test has 20 multiple choice questions and the pass mark is 16.
- There is an age limit of 18 for drone registration or to get Operator ID. Younger pilots will need a parent or other adult to register on their behalf and take legal responsibility.
- There is an age limit of 13 to get Flyer ID unless the younger pilots register with a parent or guardian present.
- As of 1 December 2019, anyone operating a drone that cannot prove they have registered and/or passed the online course will be considered breaking the law. The maximum fine is £2,000.
- The database, which links an operator’s number to the actual operator, will not be made publicly available. However, the CAA and relevant authorities can use it to link all registered craft to its legal owner.
- PfCO is still needed to fly a drone for commercial purposes.
- PfCO holders don’t need to take the online Flyer ID test.
- The registration page can be accessed in this link: https://register-drones.caa.co.uk.
Below is our previous interview with the Assistant Director of Communications for the UK’s CAA, Jonathan Nicholson about the development of UK’s drone registration laws. While some of the details do not match with the latest update as the interview was taken a week ago, there are still lots of important information that need to be read.
Q&A with the UK’s CAA (Civil Aviation Authority)
What are the new drone laws that come into effect as of 30 November?
What happened was the government did a consultation a while ago and as a result, they decided that there will be drone registration and compulsory education in the UK. That’s what becomes law as of 30 November. So, from that date, the relevant people will need to be registered and do an online education course.
Who needs to register?
It is technically anybody operating an unmanned aircraft weighing more than 250g (and up to 20kg) and who is responsible for that craft.
Does this include non-commercial drone owners as well as professionals?
Absolutely. The UK drone registration proposes to include all unmanned aircraft like radio-controlled model aircraft and so on. It’s pretty much everything.
To clarify, so it is the person that needs to be registered, not the drones?
Exactly. We were very clear to the people developing the legislation that it did not make sense to do it by drone. Because, for example, if you’re an FPV drone racer, you might have a different drone for every race. I have been there and seen some parts get taken out and recycled at the end of the race. We also tried to make sure that what we put in place now meets the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) safety requirements that will come in next year.
So a business owner couldn’t register their company as the legal owner of its drone fleet?
That is correct. The whole idea of the UK drone registration is that it carries a legal responsibility. Therefore, if something goes wrong, it is the person who is legally responsible.
It could be that the person registered is not a drone pilot. Say, for example, you are a business that has 30 drones and 10 drone pilots. The person with the legal responsibility for those drones within the company might be the Chief Safety Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the CEO or someone like that.
Is there any obligation on retailers for the registration process?
We did look to see if something could be done at the point of sale but not much else is done at this point. For example, TV licenses are not done at the point of sale. It was thought that it would put an unnecessary burden on retailers, in terms of setting them up and putting in the IT.
The regulation says you have to be 18 years old to register. Does this mean younger pilots just need to get a parent or another adult to take that legal responsibility?
Yes. That’s something that the government introduced because to be legally responsible for something you usually need to be over 18. So, it is not something that is intended to stop people under 18 from flying and there is no minimum age. But, yes, you need a responsible adult to be responsible for it. If my 11-year old daughter wanted to fly one of our drones, I would be responsible for it.
(The latest update from CAA adds that there is a minimum age for the competency test. Pilots under 13 years old can only register to the competency test with a guardian or parent present)
What happens if people miss the deadline?
The 30th of November is the date that it becomes a legal requirement. After that date, you have to meet the criteria of being registered and having done the education package. We are finalizing some last-minute details with the government. As soon as everyone is happy we are going to turn it on.
That could leave quite a small window to get everyone signed up?
It could indeed and I get that. However, unfortunately, it is not ready at the moment. We appreciate that people are waiting for this and they had expected to be able to do it by now. We are working with the government to get it online as soon as we can and we will let people know.
If you are not registered or passed the online course and you still fly your drone, then you are breaking the law?
That is how it stands at the moment. It will be up to the government and Department of Transport if they wanted to change that. I am not aware of any plans on their behalf to change things
What is the penalty for breaking the law?
A £2,000 fine is the maximum at the moment. The government has also said it is looking to implement a new Drone Bill and that will also include enforcement. It will allow the police to do more in terms of smaller on-the-spot fines. Under the government plans, they will be able to do something similar if they stopped you and you could not prove that you were registered or had done the education package.
How much will registration cost? And will it be a one-off payment or an annual fee?
It will be annual. The charge we consulted on is based on what we thought the number of expected users would be along with the costs involved and that was around £16.50. That does not mean to say that this will be the final cost as we are looking to see what our options are to reduce that at the moment. That is up for debate between us and the government and it may be that it ends up being less than £16.50.
(The latest update from CAA states the annual fee will be £9)
Is the education side tied into the registration process – so there are no additional fees involved?
The education package is completely free and you would need to do it every three years. But it needs to be done by anybody who is flying a drone that is above 250g and below 20kg, even if you do not own it.
Where will people need to go to register? Is there a website that people can check out and bookmark in preparation?
Not yet. Technically, everything is ready to go but we will make an official announcement on the URL, the date and the cost all at the same time.
(Editorial Note: The government needs to give 14 days’ notice of any charges or fees it introduces, so registration couldn’t start until at least two weeks after that announcement is made).
What will people that register get in terms of proof or validation?
It is all done digitally and you will get online confirmation that you can show to people. We have a lot of drone operators telling us that people stop them in the park and say things like “you are not allowed to do this, you do not know what you are doing”, etc. With the new regulation, they will be able to print it out or hold up their phone and show them: “Look, I know what I am doing. I am registered and I have passed the CAA education package.” So, it is all online and you will get it instantly as part of the process.
(The latest update from CAA divides the registration into two parts, Operator ID and Flyer ID. Operator ID is related to drone ownership, while Flyer ID is related to flying permit. To get a Flyer ID, drone pilots need to pass a competency test. The test has 20 multiple choice questions and the pass mark is 16. If a pilot cannot pass the test, he can take the test again as many as he/she wants)
Is the online education package also on hold along with the registration process?
It’s all part of the same system, the same package of IT development. It is all online.
How long is it likely to take to complete the registration?
Around 20-30 minutes to complete depending on how much you need to learn and how much you already know. It covers the basics such as safety, privacy, and also some stuff on airspace. It is pretty much everything you need to know about flying a drone. If you do not pass, you have to go back and do it again until you do.
It sounds pretty simple and so anybody who’s done their PfCO training should find it pretty straightforward?
Oh absolutely, yeah. They should be able to sail through it. We have been very keen to strike that balance between giving people enough so that they should be able to fly pretty safely and know most of what they need to do, versus the ability or willingness to do this. We do not want to turn it into hours and hours of reading and testing. It needs to be something that the average enthusiast or consumer can do.
(It worth to be mentioned that PfCO is still needed if a pilot is going to use drones for commercial purposes)
Would there be a scope to take the test before the registration process opens?
Currently, it all goes on at the same time because they are so interlinked.
What is the next step ahead of this getting underway?
The only thing that people need to know is the URL. I have seen the system and it is really good. There is a lot of user-testing that’s gone into it – they spent more time testing the system than they did building it. So we would hope that it works pretty well and does what people need it to in the easiest and most seamless way possible.
Obviously, we will keep it under review and update it as necessary. For example, like the laws change and we need to update the education package. But, we are pretty confident that it will be user-friendly.
And also pretty robust, as we would imagine there will quite a surge in those first few days?
Yes, I would love there to be a surge! We will be doing a big campaign to let people know because obviously, the enthusiasts are well aware this is happening. The majority of people that will be affected by this are those who just happen to have a drone. We need to do a big awareness campaign to reach those people and let them know what they need to do.
Have you been involved with the police to give them an appreciation of the situation – as there could be people who simply aren’t aware of this and inadvertently find themselves breaking the law in December?
Ultimately that will be down to the police. They could say, “The law says this and it came into effect on that day”. In reality, it is going to take a bit of understanding and education on all sides. We will need to work with the police so that they understand what it is, what it means and what it does not. There will be a period where everyone gets their heads around it, but enforcement will be up to the police.
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