Affordable drones with great cameras have made aerial photography a reality to amateur and professional photographers, but many don’t realise there are strict laws governing both amateur and professional use. Flying your drone too high or too far can be very dangerous, not only to people or property on the ground but to other aircraft – even a small drone hitting the tail rotor of a helicopter could be catastrophic and potentially result in a fatal crash.
Just because we live in Shetland doesn’t mean we’re immune to the rules relating to drones. Our airspace here is surprisingly busy with many low-level flights, intense helicopter activity, numerous small airfields and a busy airport at Sumburgh. Your drone is a fantastic camera in the sky, but learn the rules to ensure you fly it safely.
To make our airspace safer make sure you follow the Drone Code every time you fly. You should also join the Shetland Flight Information Notification Scheme, a local group where you can inform other airspace users where you intend to fly to avoid conflict.
Since 30 November 2019 it is a legal requirement to register with the CAA before you can operate a drone or model airacraft, and you must also take and pass an online test to prove you're competent to fly. You must have two registrations in place before you fly a drone or model aircraft that’s between 250g and 25kg:
You can register for both an Operator ID and a Flyer ID here (opens in a new window). Any drone or model aircraft that you fly must display your Operator ID (NOT your Flyer ID) clearly in block capital characters larger than 3mm. It is recommended to use a removable label as your Operator ID may change yearly.
The Air Navigation Order 2016 details the laws that apply to drone and model aircraft flights, however there have been many changes so it is important to read the guidance notes in CAP2013. There is also a whole set of documents that cover all aspects of the new regulations here.
There are now three categories of unmanned aircraft operations: Open, Specific and Certified. Most recreational remote pilots will operate in the Open category which is considered low risk, and as there is no longer a distinction between recreational and commercial unmanned aircraft operations, the new regulations open up lots of opportunities. If you do intend to use your drone for commercial work you must have (EC)785/2004 compliant insurance and, unless you intend to operate in the A1 or A3 sub-categories only, an A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC) as a minimum. This also applies to commercial work in the A1 Transitional category. The Specific category is for higher risk operations and is similar to the legacy PfCO. It is unlikely that recreational drone users will require to operate in the Specific category, but in all cases you will require an Operations Manual and a General Visual Line of Sight certificate (GVC) to obtain an Operational Authorisation (OA) from the CAA. Specific category operations are beyond the scope of this website, however you can find links to the CAA drone and model aircraft pages on the Resources page which details how to obtain an OA.
The Open category is stuctured into three subsets that depend on the CE classification of the unmanned aircraft you are flying:
From 31 December 2020 to 31 December 2022 there are transitional arrangements in place to allow you to still use your current drone until CE marked drones are available (there are currently NO C marked drones on the market as of January 2021). The transitional arrangements are:
Remember, no matter what category or weight of unmanned aircraft you are flying you must not fly:
In addition, you must always:
Breaking these rules is not only highly dangerous but can result in hefty fines, imprisonment, or both, along with a criminal record, confiscation of your drone (and associated equipment such as PCs and tablets), and possibly a ban from flying drones in the future. There have been several cases in the UK recently where recreational drone users have been arrested and charged with offences under the Air Navigation Order using photos and videos posted to social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube as evidence.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so learn the rules and fly your drone safely and responsibly. Never recklessly endanger people by flying near or over them; the propellers of even a small drone can cause serious injury. And never endanger other aircraft; flying too high, too far, or near airports is a recipe for conflict, with serious and potentially deadly consequences.
Enjoy using your drone responsibly. Don’t put other lives at risk by flying recklessly or irresponsibly. Remember, you are the pilot and responsibility for the flight lies with you. Know the rules, read the Drone Code, join the Shetland Flight Information Notification Scheme and fly safely!
Click on the graphic below to download a Shetland airspace map (please note this is an old version that predates the new regulations, and has Scatsta airport which is now closed. A new version is currently in production):
This website has been produced by Shetland Flyer Aerial Media to increase safety and awareness for drone operators in Shetland. If you have any questions or suggestions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We're authorised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to conduct commercial operations with unmanned aircraft up to 25kg within and over congested areas. We are members of ARPAS-UK, the UK trade association for unmanned aircraft operators, and Drone Safe Register, a verified commercial operator register. Click on the icons below to visit the respective websites.