The sport of model flying is subject to various legal controls which should be carefully considered at all times. You are personally responsible for any flights you make and knowledge of your legal responsibilities is important.
8.1 The Air Navigation Order (ANO)
Definition: “Small unmanned aircraft” (SUA) means any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight
The ANO is the legal framework which covers all flying activity in the UK. It is administered by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and has been ratified by Act of Parliament. This means that the ANO is part of the body of law of the UK and, if you break it, you are liable to criminal prosecution.
However, model flying has been exempted from most of the clauses of the ANO. The current ANO is CAP 393, 2016 No.765. The main clauses that still apply are 241, 240, 94 and 95. You will note that the clauses have been renumbered in this version. The old clause numbers are shown in parentheses below. The ANO has now been updated as of 31/07/2018 by the Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018 No. 623 which makes it illegal to fly any SUA above 400 feet. However the CAA have issued a Permission and Exemption which allows members of the BMFA, the Scottish Aeromodellers Association (SAA), The Large Model Association (LMA) and FPV UK to continue operating ‘conventional’ model aircraft (excluding multi-rotors) weighing less than 7Kg at heights in excess of 400ft. An exemption has also been given that allows members to operate ‘conventional’ model aircraft (excluding multi-rotors) weighing less than 3.5Kg at heights up to 1000ft using first person view (fpv). An exemption has also been granted for gliders in excess of 7kg, but not exceeding 14kg to fly at height in excess of 400ft above the surface of the earth beneath it, provided the aircraft is not flown at a height greater than 400ft above the remote pilot at any time. The full text of these exemptions are available on the website at BMFA.org.
Note that any model aircraft flying in within 1 kilometre of the boundary of a licensed airfield at any height will have to be with the permission of the airfield air traffic control or airfield operator.
NOTE: Because the Isle of Man is a Crown Dependency and thus not part of the UK it is covered by its own ANO – 2015 No. 870. However this does say exactly the same things but under different clause numbers and these are given in italic below.
Article 241 (138) IoM 74;
“A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property”
Article 240 (137) IoM 73;
‘A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft’
THESE APPLY TO ALL MODEL AIRCRAFT AT ALL TIMES, WHATEVER THEIR WEIGHT OR SIZE.
Article 94 (166) IoM 97, (Small Unmanned Aircraft requirements)
- A person shall not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property
- The remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
- The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
- If a small unmanned aircraft has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, the SUA operator must not cause or permit the aircraft to be flown , and the remote pilot in charge of the aircraft must not fly it-
(a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained (effectively in any controlled airspace down to ground level – Ed); or
(b) within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained.
- Paragraph (4) does not apply to any flight within the flight restriction zone of a protected aerodrome (for details please see ‘The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018 – 2018 No 623 – Ed.)
- The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned aircraft to be flown for the purposes of commercial operations, and the remote pilot of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly it for the purposes of commercial operations except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.
Article 95(167) IoM 98, (Small unmanned surveillance aircraft)
- The SUA operator must not cause or permit a small unmanned surveillance aircraft to be flown in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2), and the remote pilot of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly it in any of those circumstances, except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.’
- The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are :-
(a) over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
(b) over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
(c) within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the ‘SUA operator or the remote pilot of the aircraft; or
(d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.
- Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.
- Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
- In this article ‘a small unmanned surveillance aircraft’ means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance (eg. video) or data acquisition.
BMFA has had clarification from the CAA that ‘surveillance or data acquisition’ equipment does NOT include such items as dataloggers, variometers etc. that are clearly used to monitor the performance of the model carrying them. They are only concerned with models equipped with cameras, video equipment etc. that have the potential to be used for surveillance purposes, either visual or electronic.
It should also be noted that the above legislation (articles 94 and 95) does NOT prohibit you from flying a camera or video equipped model for recreational purposes. The person in charge of the model must retain direct visual contact with the model (Article 94) and there are some restrictions as to where you can fly (Article 95). See also Section 19.22 First Person View.
Probably the most important of these restrictions are the limits of not flying within 50 metres of any person or 30 metres from any person during take off and landing and these are exactly the same as for any model over 7 kg. Most clubs cope with these restrictions quite easily.
8.2 Large Model Aircraft (Over 20 kg)
All large model aircraft having a mass of more than 20 kg (mass of model and equipment, but excluding fuel) require an exemption to fly.
A large model aircraft can only be operated under the terms of an Exemption issued by the CAA
Such models are subject to airframe and build inspection before an ‘exemption to test’ certificate can be issued by the CAA. This is valid for one year only and it allows the model to be flown in private by the named pilot to prove the airworthiness and safe operating criteria for the model.
If the model is satisfactory over a set number of logged flights, the issue of a full exemption certificate will be recommended to the CAA. If this is agreed, the model may then be flown in public.
Exemptions are valid for one year but may be re-issued by the CAA on application provided that no changes or significant repairs have been made to the model. If any changes or significant repairs have been made, the model must be re-examined and a fresh ‘exemption to test’ certificate applied for, with the model going through the full test schedule before the issue of a new full exemption certificate.
It is unlikely that an exemption will be issued without the condition that the model must be flown within the ‘control’ of a recognised model association and at a suitable site.
Note carefully that the only person legally allowed to fly the model is the person named on the exemption certificate. There are some exceptions to this rule but these have to be agreed directly with the CAA.
The maximum mass for a model aircraft to be treated under the guidelines of CAP 658 is 150 kg. Above this mass full airworthiness regulations may apply. Builders contemplating the construction of a model having a mass of more than 150 kg should contact the CAA prior to commencing construction.
BMFA Notes on Models Over 20 kg
These are considered by the CAA to be aircraft, not model aircraft and, as such, they are treated in a different manner to models under 20 kg.
The exemption certificate does exactly what it says, it exempts the model from most of the clauses of the ANO, but the model is then subject to whatever conditions the CAA might apply to the model and these are detailed on the certificate itself.
Most of the conditions are usually based on those for models between 7 and 20 kg, set out in Article 95 of the ANO above, but the CAA reserves the right to include other conditions if it thinks fit.
It should be noted that breaking any of the terms set out in the exemption certificate, for instance during a flight, will invalidate the certificate at that point in time and make the model and its pilot subject to the whole of the ANO. This could literally make that part of the flight illegal.
8.3 Gliders Between 20 kg and 80 kg
Pure gliders over 20 kg now need an Exemption from the CAA before they may be flown. Therefore, before a model glider between these masses is built the advice of either the Large Model Association (LMA) or the British Model Flying Association (BMFA) should be sought on construction, testing and operating techniques.
8.4 Upper Mass Limits
For powered models the upper mass limit is 150 kg and for gliders it is 80 kg. Beyond these masses you must contact the CAA for details of the regulations that must be followed and what permissions are needed.
8.5 Mandatory Model Flying Insurance
It is a legal requirement in the UK that all models over 20 kg maximum take off mass (MOTM) must carry at least £750,000 third party public liability insurance.
This obviously applies to all models over 20kg dry, which are covered by CAA exemption certificates. However, it also applies to those models under 20kg which do not need an exemption certificate but which are taken over 20kg when fuelled for flight.
8.6 Planning Permission Considerations
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.
8.9 The Department of the Environment Noise Code
8.6, 8.7 and 8.8 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/publications/code-of-practice-on-noise-from-model-aircraft>