The unprecedented growth of drones or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System), within the toy, hobby and professional markets shows no sign of slowing down as system developments are making RPAS more affordable and accessible. I am sure that many people will have recently received one for Christmas and be eager to see what it can do.

The majority of ‘toy’ drones, typically weighing less than 1Kg, will be operated by new drone pilots. All pilots are regarded as airspace users and are required to consider the needs of others in the air. A lack of knowledge and experience of where and when to fly can potentially lead to unsafe incidents developing.

We’ve written about some of the considerations and implications of inexperienced drone flight before but I wanted to point out some of the CAA’s rules more specifically, to ensure that if you’re heading out with a shiny new drone any time soon, that you do so in a responsible way.

  • RPAS must not be flown at a height greater than 400 feet
  • RPAS must not be flown within 50m of a person, vehicle, building or structure, or overhead groups of people at any height
  • RPAS must not be flown at a distance greater than 500m horizontally from the pilot, or at a distance exceeding that sufficient for the pilot to maintain continuous unaided visual line of sight with the RPAS, (whichever is less)
  • RPAS must not be flown within 150m of a congested area. A congested area is defined as ‘streets, towns, cities & parks etc’.
  • RPAS must not be flown commercially (receipt of financial gain), without specific permission from the CAA
  • RPAS operators are responsible at all times for ensuring that each flight can be made safely, and that collisions with other people or objects can be safely avoided at all times. Failure to comply with any of these rules may lead to criminal prosecution

Some drones may also be fitted with small cameras, and be able to perform at speeds and heights far greater than the expectations of the user, which has the potential to cause serious and even fatal injury. Additionally, those fitted with camera functionality may leave the operator liable to prosecution under UK Privacy Laws, if careful consideration surrounding use is not applied.

There are a growing number of clubs specifically for drone users, where operators may learn, develop, and gain experience safely. This opportunity also holds benefits for industries and small businesses, so we all need to work together to ensure that drone pilots fly safely and legally.

NATS can now equip you and/or your employees in the knowledge and skills required for safe flight, through our CAA approved RPAS training course and following successful completion NATS can provide recommendation to the CAA relevant to your requirements.

For more information on the NATS RPAS training course:


Please respect our commenting policy and guidelines when posting on this website.

Leave a Reply



Peter Burgess

Hi William, interesting blog. What, as far as NATS is concerned, is the difference between drones/multicopters and model aircraft (fixed wing or rotary)? As a fixed wing model acft enthusiast of over 50 years flying models in a proper, responsible way I am concerned that any changes to legislation might be very harmful to what has always been a great aviation hobby.
BTW a 400ft limit for models under 7kg would be a severe limitation.

Peter Burgess (a former NATS employee)




‘RPAS must not be flown within 150m of a congested area. A congested area is defined as ‘streets, towns, cities & parks etc’.’

– From the linked CAA article this would seem to apply only to ‘drones’ with on board cameras. Can you clarify?



Rob kelvey

Sorry, the course is overkill, overlong and over priced. The simpler course of action would have been for approved flight training organisations to deliver a one day course for 1/10th the cost NATS are demanding. Missed safety opportunity by all concerned in the pursuit of turnover.



bmfa member

There isn’t a 400ft rule for flying drones or other model aircraft. Please get your facts right before writing inflammatory articles. The CAA rules are within line of sight on both the vertical and horizontal planes which of course is entirely dependent on the size of the aircraft, the prevalent conditions and the pilot (etc.) There is no actual height limit at all for models under 7kg (within the above constraints ). Clearly you cannot fly a small model or drone 500m away and still see it. That’s obvious to people with first hand experience.

The other rules you cite (150m from people etc) apply to what the caa calls ‘small unmanned surveillance aircraft ‘ not all small unmanned aircraft.




There are some rather sweeping and potentially misleading statements contained within this article. Can you please provide official evidence to prove that they are correct?




Now as the usage of drones has became more widespread, more regulation was expected. Current regulation is quite mild in my opinion. Drones can indeed be dangerous if they are not operated properly. But I think they’ll need to be treated like cars. There crashes are happening every day, but all the manufacturers can do is to decrease the chances of a crash and hoping that that’d work. I doubt regulators will ever be able to eliminate accidents caused by drones. But what they are doing at the moment is imposing more regulatory requirements. Although that will decrease crashes, many new rules might considerably decrease the drone usage. And that I think is bad as the technology will stall. And it’s a good technology; clean and green!

In future I expect even more rules like this. Drones are getting more popular and the only thing I hope it won’t happen is some terrorist attack with them. In this way I think it is good that there is a regulation to make us all feel more secure.



Jef Ott

Why is it taking so long for comments to be published?
What are the credentials required to become an RPAS and FSS Specialist, William?




“50M OF A PERSON, VEHICLE OR STRUCTURE” eh? So, when the BBC shows a clip of the police training to use a RPAS (as they did recently), and the boys in blue are watching from clearly LESS than 50m, they’re all breaking the law? This is just an attempt by NATS to poke their nose into something that shouldn’t concern them. And at a £1000 at time for a safety training course on RPAS, who can blame them?



Tom Satinet

About 1700 people are killed a year in cars. I don’t think that’s comparable to zero people a year killed by drones.



Tom Satinet

There isn’t a 400 ft height limit for RPAS systems under 7kg. They just have to be flown within line of sight. For a large unit this could be over 400ft. The link to the CAA site on this page states that the 400ft limit applies to over 7kg, not under. The vast majority of drones are under 7kg, especially ones found under Christmas trees.

Good morning and thank you all for taking the time to comment.

For those that are unaware, the rules and regulations for specific ‘areas’ of aviation are specified within CAA documents called CAP documents, which you can search for here:

There are several areas of aviation law which affect RPAS operations. Some of these are stipulated within the Air Navigation Order (CAP 393:

The low flying rule for General Aviation stipulates that;

“An aircraft shall not be flown closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure”
As RPAS operators, it is essential to consider one of the first rules of RPAS flight. CAP 393 (, Article 166 states;
“The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.”

As responsible operators, regardless of RPAS weight, it is therefore impossible to guarantee the above statement, if operating above 400 feet.

‘BMFA Member’ – There are operating restrictions on RPAS weighing less than 7Kg. An example of this is FPV flying where the restrictions imposed can be found on the CAA website, (General Exemption E 4049).

‘BMFA Member’ – All commercial RPAS operations require adherence to VLOS parameters. These are clearly defined within CAP 722 ( as;

“Operating within Visual Line of Sight means that the Remote Pilot is able to maintain direct, unaided (other than corrective lenses) visual contact with the UA which is sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vessels, vehicles and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions. Within the UK, VLOS operations are normally accepted out to a maximum distance of 500 m horizontally and 400 ft vertically from the Remote Pilot. Operations at a greater distance from the Remote Pilot may be permitted if an acceptable safety case is submitted. For example, if the aircraft is large it may be justifiable that its flight path can be monitored visually at a greater distance than 500 m. Conversely, for some small aircraft, operations out to a distance of 500m may mean it is not possible to assure or maintain adequate visual contact.”

James – Drones (RPAS) regarded as Surveillance Aircraft must remain (unless the appropriate permissions have been obtained), at least 150m away from congested areas. There are reduced parameters for Non-surveillance RPAS, however these are not applicable to RPAS commercial operators. A ‘surveillance RPAS is defined as;

“A small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.”

Rob – Course structure and content is defined by the regulator (CAA). Course syllabus is available to view in CAP 722 (

Skirmish – Please find the detail above. There is also additional reading within CAP 722, CAP 393, CAP 658.

Tom – Thank you for your positive comments. As aviation professionals there are areas of concern, however the CAA and NATS are making every step possible to encourage safe operations, and facilitate the positive growth of this exciting domain.

Jeff Oct – Our apologies as we have been very busy. There are many roles within NATS. These include Air Traffic Control, Flight Planning, Simulation, Engineering etc. More information can be found at

Dobbo – Many organisations have CAA Approved Operational Safety Case (OSC) to operate within reduced parameters. The NATS RPAS course allows responsible operators the opportunity to create an Operations Manual/OSC, and obtain CAA permission having demonstrated their knowledge and flight handling capabilities

Tom – There have been RPAS incidents resulting in injury to third parties. A recent watchdog exposed this risk in full. Please see the above points with regards to height restrictions.

Thank you again for your comments.




Bmfa muppet

Great job William. Such a shame people comment based on their ‘opinion’ and nothing more.




It’s funny that the you don’t see the problem with a 500m vertical limit and a 400ft height limit.
500m for a small drone! I can only assume you have never actually flown a model or drone in your life, or you would see how stupid that is.




“‘BMFA Member’ – All commercial RPAS operations require adherence to VLOS parameters. These are clearly defined within CAP 722 ( ”

How does that apply to the title of your blog post which is “did you get a drone for christmas”. Your article isn’t about commercial drones its about toys that people go for christmas!

There simply isn’t a height limit for under 7kg model aircraft, please get your fact straight.


Please start typing and we will search our website for you.

Search Results