Safe airspace for all
Drones represent an exciting development in aviation technology and offer new opportunities for emergency services, businesses and individuals across the globe.
However, they also pose an increasing challenge for air traffic control.
At NATS, we want to ensure the UK’s busy skies are safe and accessible for everyone, and we’re working hard to enable the safe integration of drones with manned aircraft to ensure all airspace users can operate safely alongside each other.
We’re developing and adopting new unmanned traffic control technologies aimed at streamlining unmanned flight approvals processes.
We’re also establishing unified air traffic management (UTM) capabilities that will future-proof our systems to provide safe and secure air traffic control services for everyone who wants to fly any type of aircraft in our skies.
Since November 2019 it has been a legal requirement in the UK for anyone responsible for a drone or unmanned aircraft weighing between 250g and 20kg to register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and pass an online education package. Further guidance on this is provided in the resources and FAQS below:
If your drone weighs less than 20 kilograms and you’re flying within visual line of sight outside restricted airspace (avoiding Flight Restriction Zones), you do not need permission or air traffic control authorisation.
Information about flight restriction zones (FRZs) can be found on the Drone Assist mobile phone app, which is free to download.
The app also includes useful information about weather conditions, ground hazards and local airports – and you can use it to let other drone operators know where you are intending to fly.
Please allow up to 14 days for your flight authorisation to come through although, if the airspace area in which you wish to fly is especially sensitive, your application process may take longer.
If you are a commercial drone operator, flying your drone as part of your work or for commercial gain, you must hold a Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) qualification, issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). This also applies if your drone weighs more than 250 kilograms.
If you want to fly your drone inside an aerodrome flight protection zone, or if your preferred flight plan includes flying through any part of a flight protection zone (FRZ), you are required by law to seek and obtain air traffic control permission in advance.
If the relevant airport is already using NATS’ Airspace User Portal (the AUP is currently undergoing trials at several UK airports including London Heathrow, London Luton, Cardiff, Manchester and Southampton) you can make your FRZ flight application online via the automated AUP system.
All drone pilots are responsible for their aircraft at all times and it’s important that everyone flies safely and responsibly.
You can find out more by viewing our free online training course for hobbyist drone operators.
If you see a drone being flown illegally, you should immediately report the incident to the police by telephoning 101.
If you are a drone user or otherwise connected with the aviation industry, you can report your concerns via the CHIRP website by clicking on the CHIRP online confidential reporting tab.
If you witness a dangerous or potentially unsafe drone-related incident, you should report the circumstances to the CAA.
You can do this online using its Occurrence Reporting system.
Anyone witnessing a dangerous or potentially unsafe airspace event should report the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority and/or to the police by telephoning 101; if you are directly involved in the incident as an aviation professional you should use the Mandatory Occurrence Reporting (MOR) system on the CAA website.
If, as an aviation professional, a member of the drone community, or a drone pilot, you are concerned that a drone is being flown irresponsibly, intrusively, dangerously or in manner that may have an impact on airspace safety, you can report your concerns via the CAA-sponsored CHIRP confidential reporting programme, which is accessible via the CHIRP website.
The NATS Drone Assist app contains information about where it is and isn’t safe to fly your drone in your local area – however, please be aware that use of the app does not constitute flight request approval or clearance to enter controlled airspace.