Do I need a license to fly my drone

7 min read Nov 8th 2023

Guest post by Mike Walker, Director, Aircam Drone Services

If your drone is considered a toy and does not have a camera, then you do not need any kind of registration or authorisation.

If your drone has a camera and is not considered a toy, this article is for you.

First and foremost, let's debunk a common misconception. There's no actual 'license' per se for flying drones.

The governing body of the UK airspace, the CAA issues various forms of registrations, permissions, and authorisations, ranging from a basic Operator ID to an OSC, or Operating Safety Case.

Although none of these authorisations are officially known as ‘licenses’, to legally fly a drone in the UK you need to complete paperwork or training, ranging from the very basic to the exceptionally complex.

Mini drones

For the quickest way to get started with camera-equipped drones, we recommend investing in the DJI Mini series.

DJI’s Mini range of drones are incredibly popular for good reason. Anyone over the age of 18 can fly a DJI Mini drone with the basic Operator ID and be blessed with the most lenient regulations in the UK, all without taking further training or tests.

Want to operate commercially? No problem, you simply need a DJI Mini drone, an Operator ID, and commercial drone insurance that is fully compliant with EU Regulation (EC) No 785/2004.

Why can I do this?

The Mini series of drones comes under the magic 250g weight figure. In the eyes of the regulators, this makes them less dangerous to uninvolved people.

What can I do with a DJI Mini drone?

You can fly in built-up areas, close to people, and over people (but not crowds). You still need to be aware of airspace restrictions, local bylaws, and follow the drone code.

If you want to fly heavier drones, things get complicated quickly. Here, we go through the various options available.

What are the different 'licenses' to fly drones in the UK?

As mentioned earlier, there's no actual 'license' for flying drones in the UK.

There are, however, various registrations and authorisations that you should make yourself aware of. These are the Operator ID, Flyer ID, A2CofC, GVC, Operational Authorisation, and OSC.

All drone (not a toy, has a camera!) operators require an Operator ID. Some drone operators require an additional Flyer ID, and fewer still require an A2CofC, GVC, or OSC.

We can consider the Operator ID and Flyer ID basic requirements for drone flying, while the A2CofC, GVC, Operational Authorisation, and OSC are extensions that allow you to fly heavier drones closer to people and built-up areas than you otherwise would.

To gain these more advanced permissions, you will need to undertake a course with a registered training provider, or RAE. These courses are specifically designed to teach you how to operate your chosen drone in a given environment safely.

The basics

Operator ID

An Operator ID is a way of registering yourself as a flyer of drones. Think of it like a personalised license plate, but one you can use on several cars. You give the CAA your details and £10.33 (at the time of writing) and they give you a unique number. You must display this number on all of your drones. If you are under 18, you need a parent or guardian to register for you.

Flyer ID

If your drone weighs over 250g, you will also need to get a Flyer ID. The Flyer ID intends to teach the basics of drone laws and safe flying. To get a Flyer ID, first swat up on drone safety and laws, and then take and pass an online theory test, which is a free service provided by the CAA.

Beyond the Operator ID and Flyer ID are the A2CofC, GVC, Operational Authorisation, and OSC.

Your requirements will dictate the need for these.

The main questions to ask yourself are ‘Do I need a drone of a certain weight?’. ‘Do I need to fly close to uninvolved people?’. ‘Do I need to fly over uninvolved people?’ and ‘Do I need to fly in built-up areas?’

Any authorisations or permissions beyond the Operator ID and Flyer ID are based on the weight of your drone and how close you would like to fly to people/over people and built-up areas.

In all cases, you need to cross reference your type of authorisation with the weight of drone to understand your particular flying restrictions.

Popular DJI drones and their weights

  • DJI Mini 2/3/4 - 249g
  • DJI Avata - 410g
  • DJI Air 2S - 595g
  • DJI Air 3 - 720g
  • DJI Mavic 3 - 895g
  • DJI Inspire 3 - 3995g
  • DJI M30 - 3950g
  • DJI M300 - 6300g

Drone certificates and authorisations

A2 Certificate of Competency (A2CofC)

If your drone weighs between 250g-500g and you have an A2CofC

  • You can fly ‘close to people’
  • No intentional overflight of uninvolved people
  • You can fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial areas (built-up areas)

If your drone weighs between 250g-500g and you don’t have an A2CofC

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people.
  • No intentional overflight of uninvolved people
  • Your drone must stay 150 metres away from recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial areas (built-up areas)

If your drone weighs between 500g-2kg and you have an A2CofC

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people.
  • No intentional overflight of uninvolved people.
  • You can fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial purposes.

If your drone weighs between 500g-2kg and you don’t have an A2CofC

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people.
  • No intentional overflight of uninvolved people
  • Your drone must stay 150 metres away from recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial areas (built-up areas)

GVC with Operational Authorisation (PDRA)

If your drone weighs between 250g-500g and you have a GVC with Operational Authorisation

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people (30m on take off and landing)
  • Overflight of uninvolved people is allowed but should be minimised.
  • You can fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial purposes (built-up areas)

If your drone weighs between 500g-2kg and you have a GVC with Operational Authorisation

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people (30m on take off and landing)
  • Overflight of uninvolved people is allowed but should be minimised.
  • You can fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial purposes (built-up areas)

If your drone weighs between 2kg-25kg and you have a GVC with Operational Authorisation

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people (30m on take off and landing)
  • Overflight of uninvolved people is allowed but should be minimised.
  • You can fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial purposes (built-up areas)

Operating Safety Case (OSC)

Depends on the individual/organisation and your operational requirements, e.g. do you need to fly larger drone close to people.

Can I fly a drone over 250g without a license?

Yes, the basic requirements for flying a drone over 250g are an Operator ID and Flyer ID. With these, you can legally fly a drone weighing up to 25kg providing you are abiding by airspace restrictions, the drone code, and the following criteria:

  • Your drone must stay at least 50m away from uninvolved people.
  • No intentional overflight of uninvolved people
  • Your drone must stay 150 metres away from recreational, industrial, residential, and commercial areas (built-up areas)

Drone license recommendations

To unpack the above, we have some basic recommendations based on your needs as a drone flyer.

  1. Get an Operator ID and Flyer ID at the very least. Although a Flyer ID isn’t always necessary, it’s free, lasts five years, and teaches the basics of drone laws and regulations.
  2. Get a drone below 250g. Seriously, this will save you a world of pain, and the flying capabilities and image quality of DJI’s recent versions of these drones are excellent.
  3. If you're simply looking to fly a drone up to 25kg in open spaces, away from people, and not near built-up areas, you only need an Operator ID and Flyer ID.
  4. If you're looking to fly a drone under 500g but over 250g close to people and in built-up areas get an A2CofC.
  5. If you're flying a drone between 500g-2kg and are happy to avoid overflying uninvolved people get an A2CofC.
  6. If you're flying a drone over 2kg, or a drone over 250g and want to fly over uninvolved people (although the CAA stipulates this should be avoided if possible), and within built-up areas, get a GVC and apply for an Operational Authorisation from the CAA.
  7. If you want to fly a drone for commercial gain, you need insurance that is fully compliant with EU Regulation (EC) No 785/2004.
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