The Drone and Model Aircraft Code

For flying drones, model aeroplanes, model gliders, model helicopters, and other unmanned aircraft systems outdoors in the Open A1 and A3 categories
The Drone and Model Aircraft Code published and last updated dates
From: The UK Civil Aviation Authority (opens in a new tab)
Published: October 2019
Last updated: February 2021

Making every flight safe (Points 10 to 19)

What to do before flying, during a flight and after a flight.

10. Make sure you know what your drone or model aircraft can and cannot do

Make sure you have read any instructions before you fly.

Key points to know are:

  • how far your drone or model aircraft can fly from you before it loses signal
  • how long your drone or model aircraft can fly before running low on power or fuel

If your drone or model aircraft has any of the following functions, you should know how to set and update them:

  • Maximum flying height.
  • A lost connection or ‘return-to-home’ function, which means your drone or model aircraft can fly back to you if there’s a problem.
  • Geo-awareness software to help you avoid flying in certain restricted areas. Do not alter or disable this software if your drone or model aircraft has it.

Modifying a C class drone or model aircraft

If you modify any C class drone or model aircraft, it no longer counts as a C class drone or model aircraft. Instead, you must follow the rules for the flying weight of your drone: either lighter than 250g, or 250g and above.

It does not matter whether you’ve increased the weight or not.

For example, if you have a C1 drone and you change the motor to one that’s not specified by the drone manufacturer, you can no longer fly your drone in recreational, residential, industrial or commercial areas.

Modifying means changing anything that affects the weight or how the drone or model aircraft flies. It does not include replacing broken or damaged parts with new ones of the same design. For example, replacing broken rotor blades with new rotor blades specified by the manufacturer.

11. Make sure your drone or model aircraft is fit to fly

Check fuel and battery levels

Take special care to check that fuel and battery levels will last through your flight. This includes any extra fuel you might need in an emergency or for flying in difficult weather, such as windy conditions.

Remember to check the battery power in the controller too.

Check any built-in software is up to date

The built-in software (called firmware) controls important navigation and flying controls. Depending on the type of drone or model aircraft you have, this could include:

  • how your drone uses its power
  • how your drone knows its position
  • how your drone lands if there’s a problem
  • in some cases, the latest information on flight restriction zones and other airspace restrictions

Keeping this software up to date will also help to protect against cyber attacks.

Follow the instructions to update the built-in software (firmware). Always check that the software has updated correctly before going flying.

12. Never drop anything from your drone or model aircraft while it’s flying

13. Never carry any dangerous cargo on your drone or model aircraft

You must never carry any cargo on your drone or model aircraft that could be dangerous to people, property or the environment if there was an accident.

For example, never carry:

  • poisonous or corrosive cargo, such as acid or bleach
  • flammable cargo, such as petrol or oil, apart from what the engine needs for that flight

14. Make sure any equipment is secure

If you plan to carry any equipment on your drone or model aircraft, you must not go over the maximum take-off mass (MTOM). This is the maximum safe weight your drone or model aircraft can take-off and fly with. It includes fuel and any items or equipment attached to it.

You can find the maximum take-off mass in your drone or model aircraft instructions.

15. Do not fly if the weather could affect your flight

Some of the things to look out for:

  • strong winds could blow your drone or model aircraft off course or make it difficult to fly safely
  • wind on the ground is often very different to the wind at height
  • rain or other water, snow and cold weather could stop parts of your drone or model aircraft from working
  • fog could mean you lose sight of your drone or model aircraft
  • glare from the sun could mean you lose sight of your drone or model aircraft
  • cold or wet weather could affect your ability to control your drone or model aircraft safely
  • standing out in the sun could affect your ability to concentrate

Make sure your drone or model aircraft will work if the temperature is low

Follow the manufacturer’s guidance on the safe temperatures to fly at.

Some types of battery do not hold their charge as long in cold weather and this may reduce the amount of time you can fly.

16. Make sure you’re fit and safe to fly

Do not drink and fly

You must not fly when under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol will seriously affect your judgement and ability.

Do not fly under the influence of drugs or medicine

Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking medicines that may affect your ability to operate your drone or model aircraft safely. Do not fly if they advise that your ability to drive a car or operate machinery may be affected.

Do not fly if you’re tired or unwell

Your judgement and ability could be affected if you are tired or unwell.

Do not fly while you could be distracted by another activity

For example:

  • do not fly while driving, riding or operating a vehicle or bicycle
  • do not fly while messaging or making a phone call
  • do not fly more than one drone or model aircraft at a time

17. Take action quickly and safely if the situation in the air or on the ground changes

Always be ready to land your drone or model aircraft or reduce your flying height and wait until it is safe to fly again. For example, you may need to land if a group of people or animals turn up in the area where you’re flying.

Low flying aircraft

Reduce your flying height or land as soon as you hear or see a low flying aircraft that may be affected by your drone or model aircraft.

Land your drone or model aircraft, or hover at a low level well out of the way, and wait until it’s safe to continue with your flight. If it appears the aircraft is attempting to land, you should land your drone or model aircraft immediately.

18. Report any dangerous incidents, near misses or suspicious activity

If you’re involved in a dangerous incident or near miss when you’re flying your drone or model aircraft, you must report the incident to the Civil Aviation Authority (opens in new tab).

An incident or near miss includes anything that did or could:

  • put people in danger
  • cause damage to property, buildings, equipment or aircraft

The Civil Aviation Authority will use this information to monitor potential hazards and risks to help keep flying safe for everyone.

Suspicious activity and mis-use

If you see anybody using a drone or model aircraft in a suspicious or dangerous way, call your local police on 101. If it’s at an airport, call airport security.

Retrieving your drone or model aircraft after a forced landing

If you make a forced landing or crash on private property, you must get the property owner’s permission before retrieving your drone or model aircraft.

This is especially important at sites where security services are likely to respond if you enter without permission.

19. Make sure you have the appropriate insurance

The insurance you need depends on the size of your drone or model aircraft and what you use it for.

Insurance for drones and model aircraft below 20kg

If you fly a drone or model aircraft that weighs less than 20kg for fun, recreation, sport, or as a hobby, you can choose whether or not to have insurance.

If you fly for any other reason, you must have third party liability insurance. For example, you must have insurance if you:

  • get paid to take pictures or record video or carry out surveys
  • use your drone for work, such as on a farm, park or estate

Although insurance is optional if you only fly for fun, recreation, sport, or as a hobby, remember you’re responsible for your actions. You could be held personally liable for any injury or damage you cause, so you may want to consider getting third party liability insurance.

Insurance for drones and model aircraft 20kg and above

If your drone or model aircraft is 20kg or more, you must always have third party insurance, no matter what you use your aircraft for.