What is the ‘dronecode’? Rules on flying drones safely and legally

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© bbc.co.uk 2016  View original article at BBC World News

Amazon has joined forces with the government on a new programme that’ll explore the use of drones for home deliveries.

The US tech company has been developing drones that can deliver its parcels to private addresses over a short distance as part of its Prime Air initiative.

I’ll now work with the government and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to develop better safety regulations.

They’ll be the first tests of their kind in the UK.

Current regulations don’t allow drone operators to lose line of sight of their device or operate over densely populated areas unless they have CAA permission.

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Technology to overcome these restrictions will be explored in the new programme, which will also test sensor performance to help drones detect and avoid obstacles.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which looks after airspace safety, launched a set of rules called the “dronecode” last year.

“There’s potential if a small craft made of steel and carbon fibre and aluminium got into an engine, it could potentially down an aircraft,” drone owner Lee Butler told Newsbeat in April.

“I think the results would potentially be disastrous.”


Lee, who’s 29 and from Essex, says the vast majority of people who own the devices are responsible.

“I think some people break the height limit. I haven’t personally because 400ft is easily high enough for me. Everything I need to do is well within the law,” Lee told Newsbeat in July.


The code has some simple rules for drone pilots to follow.

– Don’t fly higher than 400ft – that’s about 122 metres (to put that into perspective, St Paul’s Cathedral in London is 111 metres tall).

– Make sure you can see your drone at all times.

– Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.

– Use your common sense and fly safely.

– Drones with cameras must not be flown within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures.

– Drones with cameras also must not be flown over congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events.

The CAA warns that people could be prosecuted under the Air Navigation Order.

It says that recklessly endangering an aircraft in flight is a criminal offence that carries a possible prison sentence.

Do you need permission to fly?

If you’re making money from flying the drone (and are trained to do so) then you have to get permission from the CAA.

You also need to contact the CAA if your drone has a camera and you’re flying it in busy areas or close to people and buildings that aren’t under your control.

You should also consider the weight of your drone – if it’s more than 20kg you have to get permission to fly it.

The drone code says to not fly higher than 400 feet (122 metres)

Picture Copyright: PA

Data protection

If your drone has a camera then you need to think about data protection law.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has some tips on how to use your drone responsibly and without invading people’s privacy.

It advises you to try and let people know that you’re recording and to think about your surroundings, such as whether there are other people’s homes or gardens nearby.

It also says get to know your camera and what it’s able to do, and plan your flight path.

Lastly, it reminds people to keep any footage safe and think before you share it online.

Lee controlling a drone and viewing the video images it sends on his goggles through the device’s ‘eyes’, its cameras

Lee believes the “dronecode” rules are strong enough to regulate the growing industry.

He adds: “It’s like cars. People break the speed limit and they drive recklessly, but we don’t punish the whole driving community for that.”

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