The Civil Aviation Authority ("CAA") recently closed its consultation on allowing drones to fly beyond visual line of sight ("BVLOS") of the pilot within an Atypical Air Environment ("AAE"). The development of such policy supports the CAA's work towards being able to authorise BVLOS operations in a safe, scaled and sustainable manner.

Drones are increasingly being used to offer a range of commercial services including aerial photography, television production services and survey and inspection services, with applications across multiple sectors. The CAA are developing a framework to allow drones to be flown BVLOS by authorised operators, which in addition to its policy for authorising operations within an AAE, will also involve procedures to regulate pilot competence, the flightworthiness of drones and the mechanisms for assessing and mitigating operational risks.

Overview of current rules for drone operators

The CAA is responsible for regulating and overseeing the use of drones in the UK and has published The Drone and Model Aircraft Code (the "Code") which consolidates some of the key legal points from the Air Navigation Order 2016 and retained EU UAS regulations which drone operators should be aware of. The rules which apply to drone operation will depend on the type of drone being flown and the purpose of the flight. In summary for low risk flying of drones weighing above 250g and having a camera, the Code provides that drones must:

  • be operated and flown by persons having the correct operator ID and flyer ID;
  • be used safely;
  • be kept within visual range of the pilot;
  • be flown no higher than 120m;
  • keep at least 50m from persons and never flown over crowds (with certain exceptions for low risk operations using drones of specified types and/or by pilots holding the required certificates of competency);
  • keep at least 150m from residential, recreational, commercial and industrial sites (for example, residential buildings, schools, tourist attractions, shopping centres, rail and transport); and
  • be kept away from airports, spaceports and flight restriction zones.

For operators who wish to fly outside these parameters (ie at different heights or distances or closer to structures or other restricted areas) then the correct authorisation must be obtained from the CAA by applying for an operational safety case. Drone operators will also need to check whether additional authorisation is required from the owner of any landing and take-off sites and the relevant local authority which may have local bylaws or temporary restrictions regulating drone flights. In addition, specific authorisations may be required for flights over or in the vicinity of certain sites, (eg National Trust permission will be required for drone filming over their properties, Network Rail permission will be required for flights in the vicinity of rail assets and airport permission will be required for flights in the vicinity of the relevant airport).

Commercial drone operators must also ensure that they have the appropriate insurance cover for their activities and drone operators who intend to record photographs or video footage should be aware of their duties in terms of the UK's data privacy laws.

Recent CAA consultation on flying BVLOS

The CAA published a consultation paper on 20th February 2024 setting out its proposed policy position on allowing drones to fly BVLOS within an 'Atypical Air Environment' (an AAE") and provided examples of the types of environment that may be considered to be an AAE. For example, it is anticipated that applicants could propose AAE's are recognised for flights within 100ft of buildings or structures and within 50ft of permanent linear structures. It is proposed that all drones flying within an AAE will require to be fitted with transmitters allowing them to be detected electronically as well as with high intensity anti-collision lighting to aid visual awareness.

Given their conceptual nature it is recognised that there will be no single definition of what might constitute an AAE and it will ultimately be for applicants to: explain why they believe their operations should be considered within an AAE, propose suitable safety mitigations, obtain relevant CAA authorisations, co-ordinate with other local flight operations and obtain relevant approvals from land / infrastructure owners. The CAA consultation closed on 2 April 2024 and the CAA will now review all responses prior to publishing its final policy position. For more details on the CAA consultation please follow this link.

The CAA's policy consultation on AAE's will support its other work in developing a framework to allow drones to be flown BVLOS.

The ability to operate BVLOS will increase the commercial use cases for drone services. Likely use cases identified to date include performing more advanced inspections of infrastructure such as railways, roads and powerlines and facilitating the efficient delivery of critical supplies in built up areas.

In developing their services to take advantage of the increased opportunities which BVLOS will allow, drone operators must ensure that their services, equipment and internal procedures remain legally compliant and also that their service agreements with customers are updated to reflect the increased operational risks and liabilities which may arise from BVLOS operations.

Contact details for further discussion / assistance

If you would like to discuss any aspect of the current regulations relating to the operation of drones or require any assistance in drafting agreements for use as part of your offering of drone services, please get in touch with Robert Ross.


Robert Ross


Calum Lavery

Senior Solicitor