The UK adopted the EU regulations for model flying in 2019 and these came into effect on December 31st, 2020. This was the same day that we exited from the EU, but regulations in place at the point of departure were transferred directly into UK law.
For many years, model flying had been regulated by a selection of Articles from the Air Navigation Order (ANO). From 31st December 2020, the regulations for model flying changed with most of the relevant Articles in the ANO being deleted and superseded by the requirements contained within the Implementing Regulation for the new EU regulations (as detailed in CAP 722).
However, certain Articles of the Air Navigation Order do still apply, including;
Article 240 A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft.
Article 241 A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property
Article 265 This is a new addition which defines a multitude of offences relating to non-compliance with the EU Implementing Regulations (such as failing to register as an Operator of have the required evidence of competency).
The new regulations allow for alternative sets of rules to be applied to unmanned aircraft. The 'Open Category' rules set out in CAP 722 can be used by anyone in the UK, regardless of whether they are members of any club or association and, amongst other things, include a ban on flying above 400ft. The Open Category requirements will not apply to BMFA members flying in accordance with the terms and conditions of our Article 16 Authorisation.
Model aircraft below 250g which are operated in accordance with our Authorisation are subject to the terms and conditions of the Authorisation. However, in most circumstances they may also be operated within the Open Category instead and so be flown in accordance with the basic requirements outlined in CAP 722 for an aircraft of less than 250g without a camera (i.e. no registration, competency or age requirements but operation limited to less than 400ft).
Whilst most BMFA activities will take place within the terms of our Article 16 Authorisation, there are some operations which could be carried out within the ‘Open Category’ of CAP 722. When flying within the terms of CAP 722, the following requirements apply:
- You will need a CAA Operator I.D. number if operating an aircraft weighing more than 250g (or an aircraft of any weight if fitted with a camera).
- You will need to have completed the CAA DMARES test to obtain a Flyer I.D. if operating an aircraft weighing more than 250g. BMFA competencies are only accepted for operations carried out under our Article 16 Authorisation – not those carried out directly under CAP 722.
- You will be limited to operating below 400ft.
- In some instances, the separation distances from uninvolved people will be greater than those defined in Article 16.
Full details of the requirements for operating within the ‘Open Category’ of CAP 722 are summarised in CAP 2012.
Given the excellent safety record established by model flyers throughout Europe, the EU agreed that model flying conducted within the framework of Associations like the BMFA should be subject to more flexible regulation to allow us to continue largely ‘as we do today’. The mechanism to facilitate this is referred to as an ‘Article 16 Authorisation’ (within the ‘Specific Category’) and this document provides a guide to how the Authorisation we have negotiated with the CAA applies to our members with effect from December 31st, 2020. You can find further details at https://rcc.bmfa.uk/article-16.
Our Authorisation covers all existing activities including radio-controlled aircraft of all types (including helicopters and multirotor drones), free flight aircraft and physically constrained aircraft (control line and round the pole) up to a Maximum Take Off Mass (MTOM)** of 25Kg.
Aircraft with an MTOM of more than 25Kg will be subject to a separate Authorisation to be held by the Large Model Association (which replaces their existing over 20Kg scheme).
Aircraft with an MTOM of less than 250g operated in a manner that uses the privileges within this authorisation (for example, flown above 400ft), are subject to the limitations and conditions described throughout this authorisation. However, in many circumstances they may be easily operated within the Open Category requirements (for an unmanned aircraft with a MTOM less than 250g) as the requirements are not particularly restrictive for these very light aircraft.
The Authorisation does not apply to rockets (which were not included within the EU regulations) and it does not apply to any indoor operations either, as none of the rules apply to unmanned aircraft flown inside buildings.
** Note: For all practical purposes the Maximum Take Off Mass or MTOM is the weight of your aircraft when it first becomes airborne on each flight. The MTOM now includes everything, including fuel, which is why the 7kg has gone up to 7.5kg and 20kg to 25kg.
(a) You must operate your aircraft within visual line of sight.
The Authorisation retains the long standing requirement for the remote pilot to maintain direct, unaided visual contact with their aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions, unless the aircraft is being flown in accordance with the specific conditions detailed in the ‘First Person View’ section.
(b) The purpose of the flight must be Sport, Recreation, Education or Demonstration.
The terms of our Authorisation do not cover any type of commercial operation.
It remains the case that the remote pilot is directly responsible for the safe operation of their aircraft and should only fly if reasonably satisfied that the flight can be safely made. For radio-controlled aircraft, this includes ensuring that a failsafe is set to prevent the aircraft flying away in the event of loss of signal.
(a) Operator Registration
The existing requirements for Operator registration remain in place (although now extend to capture operators of control line/round-the-pole aircraft weighing more than 1Kg). It is a legal requirement that anyone operating an unmanned aircraft outdoors be registered as an Operator with the CAA unless:
- the aircraft weighs 250g or less and is not fitted with a camera; or
- the aircraft is a control line or round-the-pole (tethered) aircraft that weighs 1Kg or less; or
- the aircraft is a 'toy' as defined in the EU Regulations (i.e. a product intended to be played with by children under 14, excluding any product with a combustion engine).
- There is no requirement to register as an Operator if you only operate model aircraft indoors.
The BMFA has the facility for members to obtain their CAA Operator registration via the BMFA GoMembership system.
The Operator I.D. number must be clearly displayed on the aircraft or within a compartment that can be easily accessed without the use of a tool.
(b) Operator Responsibilities
Our Authorisation includes a requirement for Operators to comply with the following requirements (largely common sense):
- Ensure the remote pilot is in possession of the relevant remote pilot competence requirements
- Ensure that the model aircraft is sufficiently maintained, and that any repairs carried out to it are satisfactorily made, such that it is in a safe condition to be flown;
- Ensure that the remote pilot is aware of the limitations and conditions of this authorisation;
- Ensure that the remote pilot is aware of the rules and procedures of their relevant association;
- Ensure that any necessary additional permissions or authorisations are obtained for any specific flight;
- Ensure the remote pilot is aware of any relevant airspace limitations;
The CAA acknowledges that in many instances, the operator and the remote pilot will be the same person. In such cases, this person must discharge the responsibilities of both the remote pilot (see Section 6), and the Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Operator.
(a) Remote Pilot Competence
The existing requirements for Remote Pilot Competence remain in place. It is a legal requirement to have evidence that you are competent to operate your aircraft for anyone who is operating in accordance with our Authorisation except for those who:
- only operate aircraft (without a camera) with an MTOM of less than 250g,
- only operate indoors or only operate a control line or round the pole aircraft; (but operators of control line and round the pole aircraft with an MTOM exceeding 1Kg must now register as Operators).
There are three acceptable methods for BMFA members to show evidence of Remote Pilot Competence
- Have a valid BMFA Registration Competency Certificate (RCC), or
- Passing the CAA online DMARES test and having a ‘Flyer ID’, or
- Have a BMFA Achievement Certificate that was obtained before 31/12/2020 and also have declared to the BMFA that they have read and understood the conditions and restrictions that apply when operating within our Article 16 authorisation. (N.B. Certificates gained after 31/12/2020 cannot be used) See section 14 below
Please note a Flyer ID is only required if you are using the CAA online DMARES test as your evidence.
The BMFA strongly recommend all members take and pass the updated Registration Competency Certificate as it is most relevant to how our members operate and is an excellent way of ensuring understanding of our Authorisation.
It is a requirement for anyone taking a new BMFA Achievement to show proof of one of the above methods. Any candidate who shows proof of a valid RCC obtained after 31/12/2020 will be exempt from answering the mandatory questions during the test.
The BMFA is required to keep a record of all Achievements (including the RCC) held by members for CAA audit purposes.
(b) Remote Pilot Responsibilities
It is a condition of our Authorisation that Remote Pilots comply with the following requirements (largely common sense):
- Be fit to fly. Don’t fly under the influence of psychoactive substances or alcohol or when unfit to fly (e.g. due to injury, fatigue, medication, sickness or other causes)
- Have the appropriate competency (and evidence of it such as your membership card/document).
- Be familiar with manufacturer’s instructions for your aircraft, if applicable.
Before flying, it is a requirement to:
- Make sure there are no relevant airspace restrictions in place where you intend to fly.
- Ensure that the operating environment is compatible with the limitations and conditions set out within this Authorisation.
- Ensure that your aircraft is in a safe condition to complete the flight safely.
- Ensure that any relevant information about the operation has been made available to the relevant air traffic service (ATS) unit, other airspace users and relevant stakeholders, when required.
During the flight, it is a requirement that you:
- Comply with the limitations and conditions set out within this authorisation;
- Avoid any risk of collision with any manned aircraft and discontinue a flight when it may endanger other aircraft, people, animals, environment or property; For radio-controlled aircraft, this includes ensuring that a failsafe is set to prevent the aircraft flying away in the event of loss of signal.
- Comply with any applicable airspace restrictions;
- Comply with the rules and procedures of your Association and/or Club;
- Do not fly close to or inside areas where an emergency response effort is ongoing unless you have permission to do so from the responsible emergency response services.
The Authorisation is valid throughout the UK at:
- Any established model flying club site. Clubs operating in a ‘built up area’ (This means an area substantially used for industrial, recreational, commercial or residential purposes) must conduct a risk assessment and have suitable mitigations in place within their ‘Field Safety Rules’. The BMFA can assist with this.
- Any other suitable site which is not a ‘built-up area’.
- Within a ‘built up area’ if the flying site is within an area which is only used substantially for recreational purposes (for example playing fields or sports pitches) and a risk assessment has been carried out. Again, the BMFA can assist with this.
- Within the Flight Restriction Zone of an aerodrome with the written permission/agreement of the aerodrome.
For guidance on conducting risk assessments to comply with Article 16 see https://rcc.bmfa.uk/article-16-risk.
The new regulations limit the operation of all unmanned aircraft to 400ft above the surface. However, our Authorisation permits members to fly above 400ft, subject to:
- The model aircraft is not a multi-rotor.
- The model aircraft is not automated. (The aircraft must be piloted rather than flown using fully autonomous or automatic flight capability. This does not include systems which are fitted for flight stabilisation purposes or flight termination purposes, such as free-flight termination devices).
- The model aircraft in not operating with the Flight Restriction Zone of an aerodrome, other than with the written permission/agreement with the aerodrome.
- The model aircraft remains within visual line of sight of the remote pilot.
- The model aircraft has a MTOM of not more than 7.5Kg.
Any slope soaring model glider with a MTOM exceeding 7.5kg but not more than 14kg may be flown up to 400ft above the remote pilot, even though it may then be flying more than 400ft above the surface directly beneath the glider.
Flights above 400ft by model aircraft exceeding 7.5Kg MTOM are also permitted if either of the following apply:
- The model aircraft is being operated from a Club Site which holds a ‘BMFA Site Permit’ which authorises the operation of aircraft with an MTOM exceeding 7.5Kg, but not more than 25Kg at heights above 400ft.
- The model is being operated under a ‘BMFA Model Flying Display Permit’ which authorises the operation of aircraft with an MTOM exceeding 7.5Kg, but not more than 25Kg at heights above 400ft as part of a Model Aircraft Flying Display (this means any flying activity deliberately performed, by model aircraft’ for the purpose of providing an exhibition or entertainment at an advertised event).
The operation of aircraft with a MTOM exceeding 25Kg will be subject to the LMA’s Article 16 Authorisation and will require separate permission from the LMA.
When operating at heights which may exceed 400ft, it is essential that members maintain a good look out for manned aircraft. If a manned aircraft appears in the vicinity, their model aircraft should be brought down to under 400ft as quickly as is safely practicable.
The stipulation of separation distances from uninvolved persons is a new requirement (the default distance within the EU regulations for most of our operations being 50m), but we have reached a compromise agreement with the CAA to ensure that the terms of our Authorisation are appropriate for our established operations.
There are no minimum separation distances for model aircraft with an MTOM under 250g.
(a) Model Aircraft with an MTOM between 250g and 7.5Kg
Our Authorisation stipulates that model aircraft (other than free flight aircraft) between 250g and 7.5Kg cannot be operated:
- Within 30m of any uninvolved person. (Uninvolved Persons are those who are not participating in the UAS operation or who are not aware of the instructions and safety precautions given by the UAS operator). This distance may be reduced to 15m for take-off and landing subject to adequate local mitigations to protect uninvolved persons and the completion of a risk assessment.
- Within a horizontal distance of 30m of assemblies of people. (Assemblies of people are gatherings where persons are unable to move away due to the density of the people present).
(b) Model Aircraft with an MTOM between 7.5Kg and 25Kg
Our Authorisation stipulates that model aircraft with an MTOM between 7.5Kg and 25Kg cannot be operated:
- Within 30m of any uninvolved person. (Uninvolved Persons are those who are not participating in the UAS operation or who are not aware of the instructions and safety precautions given by the UAS operator).
- Within a horizontal distance of 50m of assemblies of people. (Assemblies of people are gatherings where persons are unable to move away due to the density of the people present). This distance may be reduced to 30m for take-off and landing subject to adequate local mitigations to protect uninvolved persons and completion of a risk assessment.
The new regulations prohibit the dropping of any materials from a model aircraft, but our Authorisation exempts us from this requirement subject to the following condition - The remote pilot must not cause or permit any article or animal to be dropped from an unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
Our Authorisation permits the continuance of ‘trial flights’ for non-members.
The non-member may operate the controls of the model aircraft and does not need to comply with the competency requirements whilst under the direct supervision of a member.
The member supervising the flight must be registered as an Operator and display their Operator I.D. on the aircraft.
Overseas visitors/competitors are permitted to operate within the terms of our Authorisation provided that they hold a temporary membership of the BMFA and agree to comply with the terms of the Authorisation (including the remote pilot competency requirements).
Overseas visitors/competitors must also carry the Operator I.D. number of a UK ‘Host’ on their aircraft.
Our Authorisation includes specific provisions for issuing permits to allow the operation of model aircraft with a MTOM greater than 7.5 Kg (but not greater than 25 Kg) at heights above 400ft. This procedure has previously been used primarily for sites used regularly for glider aerotow operations which have been subject to repeated NOTAMs/Exemptions to cover their activity. The application will need to justify the requirement and include a risk assessment and flying site rules. The operation of aircraft with an MTOM greater than 7.5Kg above 400ft will also require a NOTAM to be in place. For Clubs with a regular requirement for NOTAMs, the BMFA will liaise with the CAA to get the site listed in the AIP (Aeronautical Information Package) and ultimately on the VFR Navigation Charts. For further details, please see https://rcc.bmfa.uk/exemptions/bmfa-flying-site-permit.
Use of a site for model flying may in some circumstances require specific planning permission. In granting a planning consent a local planning authority may impose conditions designed to reduce the risk of disturbance by noise and any such conditions should be observed at all times.
If your Local Authority requests that you obtain planning permission, it is essential and very much to your advantage to contact the BMFA Club Support Officer, via the BMFA office. The success rate for planning applications is good but there is no doubt that early contact with BMFA will help you avoid the errors that can severely damage your case.
Local authorities may make bylaws, subject to approval by the Secretary of State, prohibiting or restricting model flying on certain municipally owned land or on land subject to certain provisions of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, the Countryside Act, and the Countryside (Scotland) Act . Similar provisions apply in Northern Ireland.
Under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, local authorities or individuals may apply to a Magistrate's court for a noise abatement notice which may restrict or prohibit model flying at a particular site if the noise caused by the activity is judged to amount to a statutory nuisance.
In Northern Ireland similar action may be taken by local authorities and magistrate's courts under articles 38 and 39 of the Pollution Control and Local Government (Northern Ireland) Order.
8.5, 8.6 and 8.7 above would normally entail the relevant authorities (Planning Authorities or Magistrates) consulting the Department of the Environment Code of Practice for the Restriction of Noise from Model Aircraft 1982.
The Code of Practice is not the law and, in fact, there are no direct legally enforceable noise level requirements for model aircraft. What IS legally enforceable, however, is a Noise Nuisance Notice which could be issued by a Magistrate against model flyers whom they consider are creating a statutory nuisance and which would stop any flying on the site immediately and permanently.
When a Magistrate is deciding if model flyers are creating a statutory noise nuisance, the document most likely to be referred to is the DoE Code of Practice which can be downloaded from https://www.gov.uk/government/government/publications/code-of-practice-on-noise-from-model-aircraft