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

Where you can fly (Points 3 to 9)

Legal height limits, distances from people, and areas where you must not fly.
Restrictions on flying near to airports.

3. Fly below 120m (400ft)

Flying below the legal height limit of 120m (400ft) will reduce the risk of coming across other aircraft, which normally fly higher than this.

Always look and listen out for other aircraft that may be flying below 120m (400ft), such as air ambulances and police helicopters.

Never fly more than 120 metres above the earth’s surface.

Flying where there are hills, mountains or cliffs

Your drone or model aircraft must never be more than 120m (400ft) from the closest point of the earth’s surface.

If you fly where the ground falls or rises, such as over hills, mountains or cliffs, you may need to adjust your flight path so that your drone or model aircraft is never more than 120m (400ft) from the closest point of the earth’s surface.

4. Do not fly closer to people than 50m

This includes people in buildings and transport, including cars, lorries, trains, boats.

You must keep a minimum horizontal distance of 50m between your drone or model aircraft and people. This creates a no fly zone around people that goes all the way up to the legal height limit. It can help to think of this no fly zone as a cylinder.

You must not fly over people in this no fly zone, even if you fly higher than 50m.

People involved in what you’re doing

The rule on minimum distances is different for people involved in what you’re doing.

You can fly closer than 50m to people who are with you and who are involved in what you’re doing, such as friends, family or colleagues out flying with you. But always remember, you must never put anyone in danger.

Small drones and model aircraft: below 250g, C0 or C1 class

The rule on minimum distances to people is different when flying small drones and model aircraft that are below 250g, or in C0 or C1 class.

If you’re flying a drone or model aircraft that’s lighter than 250g or is C0 class, you can fly closer to people than 50m and you can fly over them.

When you’re thinking about how close you can fly, remember, you must never put people in danger. Even small drones and model aircraft could injure people if you don’t fly them safely.

If you’re flying a drone or model aircraft that’s between 250g and 500g, or is C1 class, you can fly closer to people than 50m, but you must not intentionally fly over them.

Always keep a safe distance

Sometimes, you’ll need to increase the 50m minimum distance from people to make sure that your flight remains safe.

Follow these general rules:

  • If you fly higher than 50m, you should keep the same distance horizontally. For example, keep 80m away if you fly at a height of 80m.
  • If poor weather conditions mean that there could be a greater risk to people, fly further away from them. For example if it’s very windy, you should fly further away from people.
  • If you fly at high speeds, fly further away to give yourself more time to react.

5. Never fly over people who are crowded together

A crowd is any group of people who cannot move away quickly because of the number of other people around them.

Never do this, no matter what size of drone or model aircraft you have.

Examples of places where people are often crowded together include:

  • shopping areas
  • sports events
  • religious gatherings
  • political gatherings
  • music festivals and concerts
  • marches and rallies
  • at a crowded beach or park
  • parties, carnivals and fêtes
Never fly where people have gathered in crowds or groups.

6. Keep at least 150m away from residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas

150m is the minimum distance
Be prepared to increase the distance if you need to do that to fly safely.

Small drones and model aircraft: below 250g, C0 or C1 class

You can fly small drones and model aircraft that are lighter than 250g, or C0 or C1 class, in residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas.

Remember, you must always fly safely.

Examples of residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas

Residential areas include:

  • cities and towns
  • villages
  • housing estates
  • schools

Recreational areas include:

  • tourist attractions
  • sports facilities
  • beaches and parks
  • theme parks

Commercial areas include:

  • shopping centres
  • warehouses
  • business parks

Industrial areas include:

  • factories
  • docks
  • rail and transport hubs

7. Stay well away from airports, airfields and aircraft

Warning If you endanger the safety of an aircraft, you could go to prison for five years.

Most airports and airfields have a flight restriction zone (FRZ).

Never fly in this zone unless you have permission from the airport. The zone is in place to avoid any collisions with aircraft at or near the airport.

The DroneSafe website (opens in new tab) gives details of airfield restrictions and more information on getting permission.

Some drone apps also give details of flight restriction zones.

Never fly in an airport’s flight restriction zone.

8. Follow any flying restrictions and check for hazards

Always check for restrictions and hazards before you fly.

Examples of restrictions and hazards

Restricted airspace

Flying may be restricted around some sites, such as prisons, military ranges, royal palaces, and government buildings.

Events

Flying may be temporarily banned in specific areas during some events, such as airshows or festivals. This is to keep everyone safe.

There may also be security reasons for banning flying, such as at political conferences.

Emergency incidents

Temporary restrictions may be established at very short notice due to emergency incidents, such as road traffic accidents, fires and floods.

If you’re near the scene of an accident or similar emergency, you must keep out of the way and not do anything that could hamper the emergency services.

Byelaws

Byelaws may restrict when and where you can fly from.

Look out for local signs for information and contact details where you can find out more. Byelaws are unlikely to be shown on apps or drone websites.

Tall structures

Check for any tall structures, such as cranes, masts and wires.

Do not fly if there are structures in the area that will mean it’s not safe or legal.

Animals and wildlife

Do not fly where you’ll disturb or endanger animals and wildlife.

Other aircraft

Always be ready to respond in the safest way possible if other aircraft appear where you’re flying.

Look and listen out for unusual or specialist flying activities, such as air ambulances, police helicopters, light aircraft, military aircraft, crop spraying, and electricity pylon surveying.

Useful places to check for restrictions and hazards

Signs

Check for signs that say you cannot fly drones or model aircraft.

Some sites may have restrictions that are not listed in apps and other services.

NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen)

NOTAMs are official notices that tell people about activities that may be a hazard to flying. For example, a balloon show.

Many drone apps include details of NOTAMs. You can also find NOTAMs at the NATS drone website (opens in new tab)

Apps and other resources with details of restrictions

Some flying restrictions are given in the following:

Make sure you understand exactly what information these resources will give you.

9. Get the right authorisation before flying outside this code

This code covers flying in the Open A1 and A3 categories. If you want to fly outside the rules in this Code, you must first get the correct authorisation (opens in new tab).

For example, you’ll need authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority if you want to fly:

  • at different heights or distances to the ones in this Code
  • closer to a residential, recreational, commercial or industrial area
  • over crowds or groups of people

If you want to fly at or near an airport, you need permission from the airport.

From time to time, the Civil Aviation Authority may issue general authorisations (opens in new tab).

Authorisation that comes with membership of a club or association

In some cases, being a member of a recognised club or association may give you additional flying authorisation. For example, you may be able to fly in an area that is normally restricted as long as you follow the conditions in the authorisation.

Check with your club or association before you fly.