UK CAA prison and young offender unit Flight Restriction Zones (FRZs) areas are live in Dronedesk

10 min read Jan 25th 2024

Table of contents

  1. What's going on with UK FRZs for prisons?
  2. Why are they doing this?
  3. How do I know where the FRZs are?
  4. Which prisons are now FRZs?
  5. How do I get approval to fly in one of the prison FRZs?
  6. How can Dronedesk help?

What's going on with UK FRZs for prisons?

Regulations restrict the flying of unmanned aircraft in the vicinity of the prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales as specified in the Schedule. It has been agreed by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Justice that the flying of unmanned aircraft should be restricted in the areas specified in the Schedule for reasons of security and public safety..

As of 25th January 2024, there was a change to the Air Navigation Regulations which states that all prisons and young offender units in the UK should be protected from drone incursion by Flight Restriction Zones (FRZs). The legal change will mean drone operators could face fines of up to £2,500 for flying within 400 metres of closed prisons or young offender institutions.

Why are they doing this?

The prisons minister, Damian Hinds, said: "This is the latest step in the war we are winning to stop drugs, weapons and phones getting into our prisons.". He went on to say "These virtual 'no-fly' zones – along with our new airport-style X-ray scanners – mean we can clamp down better than ever on violence behind bars to keep both prisoners and staff safe from harm."

According to this 2019 Government report criminals, such as serious and organised crime groups, use drones to deliver contraband into prisons. In prisons across England and Wales there were 284 drone incidents in 2016, 319 in 2017 and 168 in 2018, with 165 drones actually recovered at prisons during 2016 and 2017.

And this Government press release, reports that, between 2019 and 2021, 504 drones were either sighted, intercepted or seized around prisons in England and Wales. There have been than 70 convictions since June 2016 resulting in those sentenced serving more than 240 years in prison.

A single attempted drone delivery in May 2022 contained a payload of over £35,000 worth of illicit substances and contraband. This included 399 buprenorphine tablets, around 30 grammes of cannabis and 11 mobile phones.

How do I know where the FRZs are?

If you're flying a DJI drone, you might expect their geofencing to take care of that for you and prevent you from flying in a FRZ. Unfortunately, that's not a safe assumption. In January 2024 DJI confirmed they'd downgraded all FRZs from "Restricted Zones" to "Enhanced Warning Zones" in their GEO Zone database for the UK. They may, or may not, adopt the same approach for prison FRZs, they haven't explicitly confirmed either way.

The CAA line is that you should always use "an official source" to determine the location of FRZs. As far as we can determine, the only available official source is the UAS Flight Restriction Zones published on the National Air Traffic Service's (NATS) Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) website. This is refreshed every four weeks in line with the Aeronautical Information Regulation and Control (AIRAC) schedule.

So every time you're planning to fly, you should access the published map and determine whether or not you're likely to be encountering a FRZ in the course of your flight. If so, you'll need to contact the HMPPS at drone.RFZapplication@justice.gov.uk to obtain permission.

Which prisons are now FRZs?

In short, all of them. Here's the full list as of 26-Jan-24 (Google map links open in new tab):

HMP Channings Wood, HMP Dartmoor, HMP Exeter, HMP Guys Marsh, HMP Isle Of Wight, HMP Lewes, HMP Portland, HMP The Verne, HMP Ashfield, HMP Aylesbury, HMP Belmarsh/Thameside/Isis, HMP Bristol, HMP Brixton, HMP Bronzefield, HMP Bullingdon, HMP Cardiff, HMP Chelmsford, HMP Coldingley, HMP Downview/High Down, HMP East Sutton Park, HMP Eastwood Park, HMP Erlestoke, HMP Feltham, HMP Grendon, HMP Huntercombe, HMP Maidstone, HMP Parc, HMP Pentonville, HMP Rochester, HMP Send, HMP Swaleside/Elmley, HMP Swansea, HMP The Mount, HMP Usk, HMP Wandsworth, HMP Winchester, HMP Wormwood Scrubs, HMP Bedford, HMP Birmingham, HMP Bure, HMP Dovegate, HMP Drake Hall, HMP Featherstone/Brinsford/Oakwood, HMP Five Wells, HMP Fosse Way, HMP Foston Hall, HMP Gartree, HMP Hewell, HMP Highpoint, HMP Leicester, HMP Littlehey, HMP Long Lartin, HMP Norwich, HMP Nottingham, HMP Peterborough, HMP Rye Hill/Olney, HMP Stafford, HMP Stocken, HMP Stoke Heath, HMP Swinfen Hall, HMP Warren Hill, HMP Wayland, HMP Whatton, HMP Whitemoor, HMP Woodhill, HMP Altcourse, HMP Askham Grange, HMP Berwyn, HMP Buckley Hall, HMP Doncaster, HMP Forest Bank, HMP Full Sutton, HMP Garth/Wymott, HMP Hindley, HMP Hull, HMP Humber, HMP Leeds, HMP Lincoln, HMP Lindholme/Moorland, HMP Liverpool, HMP Lowdham Grange, HMP Manchester, HMP Morton Hall, HMP New Hall, HMP Preston, HMP Ranby, HMP Risley, HMP Styal, HMP Wakefield, HMP Wealstun, HMP Werrington, HMP Wetherby, HMP Deerbolt, HMP Durham, HMP Frankland/Low Newton, HMP Holme House, HMP Lancaster Farms, and HMP Northumberland.

How do I get approval to fly in one of the prison FRZs?

Somewhat frustratingly, the published FRZs contain information which advises you to email drone.RFZapplication@justice.gov.uk.

However, all you'll get back from that address initially is the following (unhelpful) statement:

Thankyou for your email/request to operate inside the Prisons Restricted areas.

Please complete the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) online submission form for their checks to be conducted. This is not an authorisation to operate, only a data/validity check on the information being provided by the sponsor.

Once this is submitted to CAA we will process your application and you will receive a response within 28 days of your application being submitted.

All decisions will be made by the His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) for any RPAS operation within the Prison Restricted Areas.

His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service.

What you should in fact do is, first read this guidance published by the CAA. In the "Exemption requests" section, you'll find that they instruct you to submit an application via their online portal. In that application form you should select the "Airspace Restrictions (including exemption requests)" option from the activity category and then complete the rest of the required data.

WARNING: The CAA's stated minimum notice period for approvals is 28 days!

🔮 So, make sure you plan ahead and arrange for the weather to be accommodating on that specific day in a month's time. Alternatively, you might want to think about getting approval for a range of days.

How can Dronedesk help?

Dronedesk Site Plan Map showing Prison FRZ

Unfortunately we can't shortcut the CAA's approval process.

However, Dronedesk does pull in the official FRZ map every four weeks. That is to say, as soon as NATS release a new version of the map, those updates are reflected in Dronedesk. We incorporate that data into the flight planning tools we provide so that you know immediately, and without any effort, whether you're planned flight is within an FRZ or not.

So as of the morning of 25th January 2024, anyone using Dronedesk is already aware of the new FRZ locations and can take the necessary precautions and seek the necessary approvals right away.

Just one more reason why, if you're a responsible and professional drone operator, you should be using Dronedesk to plan your flights.

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