Commercial and recreational drone use in the UK Contents

5Drone safety education

104.This Chapter explains why increasing drone safety education for the general public, commercial and recreational drone users and emergency service drone operators is important and should be promoted and supported by the Government.


105.The Committee received a significant amount of evidence relating to drone safety education. The British Model Flying Association (BMFA) explained that “based on many decades of experience with model aircraft, we believe that the way to facilitate the safe operation of drones in UK airspace is through education of the operators/ owners and pilots.”.157 Many recreational drone users, including Stephen Ogborne, Mr Bernhart Dambacher and John Snape, also agreed that education was vital for safe drone use in the UK.158

106.A number of submissions asserted that drone safety education was effective in preventing ill-informed drone misuse but would not prevent criminal drone use. For example, drone user Mr Ian Bastin explained that “it’s clear the people who will break the law are likely to […] whatever rules and laws are introduced, I myself think education and competency of the drone community is where the gains will be made”.159 DJI, one the world’s largest drone manufacturers, told us that:

increasing awareness of drone regulations across the UK is one of the most effective ways to tackle non-compliance and thus increase safety, due to the fact that a significant proportion of Air Navigation Order breaches are due to ignorance rather than malicious intent.160

107.Furthermore, the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems UK, (ARPAS-UK), also explained that “the case of the distressed or unaware friendly remote pilot can be considered as a matter of information dissemination training, and regular law enforcement”.161

108.Despite the weight given by drone manufacturers and the public to drone safety education, many people and organisations argued that the current level of drone safety education was not sufficient. For example, Mr Christopher Llewellyn explained that he felt drone safety education in the UK was “lacking” and depended on drone users proactively seeking it “as drones are perhaps still considered as toys by many (irrespective of the prices paid), and in most cases toys don’t tend to have any legal restrictions placed upon them.”162 Martin Hall, a drone user, also stated that drone safety education was “far too hidden”.163 Professor Dunn from the University of Birmingham told us that current level of drone education was not sufficient and that:

The optimal way to improve this is by public messaging and advertising so that those buying COTS (commercial off the shelf) drones or those building them or buying and flying model aircraft not in societies can be aware of their responsibilities before purchasing takes place.164

109.Gemma Alcock, the Founder of SkyBound Rescuer, an organisation of specialists in the use of drones for public safety, told us that improvements needed to be made in educating those who were about to purchase drones as this was the point “at which most people ask questions about any form of technology “165

Drone Code

110.The Civil Aviation Authority has produced an online “Drone Code” guide that outlines the current drone regulations in an infographic.166 The Drone Code states that:

  1. Always keep your drone in sight;
  2. ’s against the law to fly your drone over 400ft;
  3. From 30th November 2019 and for drones over 250g, you must pass the drone test and register with the CAA before you fly;
  4. You are responsible for each flight;
  5. Keep the right distance from people and property (150ft and 500ft respectively); and
  6. Stay well away from aircraft, airports and airfields when flying any drone.167

Source: P73 – Civil Aviation Authority, “The Drone Code”, July 2019

111.The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) told us that the Drone Code “is a simple explanation of the drone flying rules.”168 The CAA also explained that “in the past three years awareness of the Drone Code among drone users has risen from under 20% to over 70%.”, but they continued “to work closely with the Government to build on the success of this campaign”.169 Mr Jonathan Thursby a drone user, commented:

The CAA have done some very good work with their Drone safe website and the Drone Code which clearly set out the regulations that apply, many of which are common sense. They have also published a detailed map which shows where the restricted zones are. This is easily accessible.170

112.Conversely, we also received evidence that there was a lack of awareness of the Drone Code amongst drone users. For example, Surrey Search and Rescue explained: “Improvements are needed in drone safety education. Currently anyone can buy a drone on the internet or High street and fly it without any awareness of the Drone Code or legislation.”171 The Security Institute noted that while the “CAA has created some good educational material for users, a broad campaign promoting a drone code of practice could be targeted at non-commercial operators.”172 A CAA survey from 2016 stated that “69% of owners [of drones] thought retailers were responsible for education at the point of sale, but only 36% were made aware of the Drone Code when buying a drone”.173 In the roundtable with drone users (see Annex 2), we heard from drone users that while they saw the Drone Code as having an important role to play in the education of drone users it needed to be updated as further legislation came into force, and that more needed to be done to publicise it. Many told us that they supported making it compulsory for retailers to provide the Drone Code at the point of sale, whilst others told us they found the contents of the code not to be that helpful. Gemma Alcock, founder of Skyrescuer, told us that the Drone Code was helpful, but that the problem was in the lack of awareness of its existence.174

113.The then Minister for Aviation told us that “awareness of the Drone Code has gone up from 54% in 2017 to 71% in 2018”,175 but conceded that a priority of the CAA and the Government was in further promoting the Drone Code: “we are working with clubs to make sure that they understand what is out there.”176

114.The Government should mandate that a copy of the Drone Code is provided with each drone sold in the UK. The Drone Code should also be publicised in common drone flying areas. This should be rolled out as quickly as possible and implemented in full no later than the end of April 2020.

Commercial drone users

115.In terms of the education of commercial drone users, the Civil Aviation Authority explained that commercial drone operators must demonstrate remote pilot competence and a sufficient understanding of aviation theory (airmanship, airspace, aviation law and good flying practice) and pass a practical flight assessment.177 The CAA approves commercial organisations, known as National Qualified Entities (NQEs) to do this assessment on their behalf. Liverpool John Moores University stated that the NQE process was lacking and that there was no requirement for pilots to be periodically re-assessed:

Unfortunately, the education system of commercial drone operators is also very poor in places […] I have experience with many newly qualified operators from a number of NQEs who do not possess anywhere near the requisite amount of knowledge of experience to operate safely.178

116.Gemma Alcock explained that currently emergency service operators were required to go through the same training as commercial operators—using the NQE system. There were only two NQEs in the UK that specialised in emergency service operations. Gemma Alcock told the Committee that the level of training for emergency operators was “at a good level, especially if they have gone to one of the emergency services NQEs and have incorporated a high level of flying as part of the training.” However, she continued:

What could perhaps be improved is tactics. That will come only as we better understand how best to use the technology in different use cases. There are constantly different use cases for emergency services using drones. Because it has grown on a rapid scale, it was difficult to use them in the most optimal way from day one, but it is constantly improving as the life-saving, life-preserving and public safety applications of drones grow worldwide.

117.National Qualified Entities (NQEs) are key for providing necessary drone education to commercial drone users in the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority needs to monitor the effectiveness and adequacy of NQEs annually and report areas of concern to the Secretary of State. If NQEs do not meet the required standard there must be a mechanism for terminating their right to operate.

118.The CAA should introduce periodic re-assessment of commercial drone users and a compulsory renewal of their licence to ensure that they are up-to-date with technology advances and legislative changes.

157 British Model Flying Association (RDU0082) para 46

158 Stephen Ogborne (RDU0012) para 7; Mr Bernhart Dambacher (RDU0021) p 2; John Snape (RDU0166) p 5

159 Ian Bastin (RDU0139) p 1

160 DJI (RDU0096) para 16

161 ARPAS-UK (RDU0164) para 3

162 Mr Christopher Llewellyn (RDU0008) p 4

163 Martin Hall (RDU0035) p 3

164 University of Birmingham (RDU0036), para 7.2

166 Drone Safe, “The Drone Code”, accessed 8/10/2019

167 Drone Safe, “The Drone Code”, accessed 8/10/2019

168 Civil Aviation Authority (RDU0130) para 37

169 Ibid

170 Mr Jonathan Thursby (RDU0149) para 8

171 Surrey Search and Rescue (RDU0125) para 8.1

172 Security Institute (RDU0106) para 3

173 Drone Safe, “Consumer Drone Users Report”, 2016

177 Civil Aviation Authority (RDU0130) para 26–27

178 Liverpool John Moores University (RDU0079) p 3

Published: 11 October 2019