In 2015, a drone videomaker was fined £1225 for flying over Hyde Park without permission to shoot a promotional film. In 2016, another drone enthusiast made the news for "breaking every rule in book" after capturing a (stunning) drone view of London. Following his sentencing, he said he hadn’t realised what he was doing was against the law.
So, what do you need to get a drone view of Central London?
The normal rules for PfCO holders
First, let's recap what are the normal rules for PfCO holders. As a reminder, the PfCO (Permissions and exemptions for COmmercial work involving small drones) is the compulsory permission that you must obtain from the CAA to be allowed to fly a drone commercially in the UK. For more details, read our previous blog posts Getting my PfCO with Aerial Motion Pictures (Part 1/Part 2)!
With a standard PfCO, you can fly anywhere except:
within 50 meters of a structure or people not in your control;
above 400ft (120 meters);
where there is no Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) between you and your drone;
over or within 150 m of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
within 1km of any airport.
On top of that, to take off and land from somewhere, you need the landowner permission, preferably in written form.
(Note: London, like most major cities, is classed as a congested area by the CAA. That is the reason why it is not possible to fly in Central London without a PfCO, as PfCOs allows holders to fly in congested areas.)
Applying the rules in London
Let's assume that you want to get a drone view of the Queen's Gate Garden, in Central London. The official address of the Garden is 41 Queen's Gate Gardens, Kensington, London SW7 5NB.
The location of the Queen's Gate Gardens
If we work the rules, we end up with the following:
within 50 meters of a structure or people not in your control. If you want to fly in the park, you will need the permission from all the owners around the area. You have to contact the owners one by one and have them consent for you to fly a drone with 50 meters of their properties. Hard but doable. Good luck! Remember that on top of that, you must have everybody in the area under your control. Again, hard but doable! Checked.
above 400 ft (120 meters). As long as you don't fly too high you are fine! Checked.
where there is no VLOS between you and your drone. As long as you can see your drone you'll be fine! Checked.
over or within 150 m of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons. Central London does not count as an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons. Trust me, I've asked the CAA! Checked.
within 1 km of any airport. In our example we are fine as the nearest airport, the Heathrow airport is 38 km away! Checked.
In dense areas contacting owners can be a challenge.
Also, according to the CAA Information Notice 2014/190:"In any circumstances or weight category, it should be noted that flights directly overhead persons and vehicles will not be allowed at any height in a congested area unless they are under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft." Drone can fail, you would never want to do that anyway.
So, in theory, you can fly in Central London with a PfCO as long as the neighbours are happy, you found someone to allow you to take off and land from their property, and everything within 50m is within your control, right? Wrong!
London restricted areas
Central London contains three restricted areas for which you need extra authorization:
the Hyde Park restricted area (EG R157)
the City of London restricted area (EG R158)
the Isle of Dogs (EG R159)
Restricted areas are marked on aviation charts and listed in the UK Aeronautical Information Package (UK AIP).
The London restricted areas
To lift the restriction, you need to apply for an Enhanced Non-Standard Flight clearance with the NATS, as stated at point ENR 1.1-18 in the UK AIP.
To do so, connect to the NATS website and navigate to the Non-Standard Flight Applications area. From there you will find a link to start your application. It generally takes a few days for the NATS to process it. It is strongly advised to submit an application at least 28 days before the day of the flight. All applications submitted within 7 days of the flight are discarded.
Raise your liability insurance to 5M
When using drones to film in London, you will need to increase your public liability to £5,000,000. Depending on the area, you might even need to increase it to £10,000,000. With Flock Cover, you can adjust your public liability on the fly directly through the app. It will just get slightly more expensive.
Privacy and copyright
Don't forget that the rules above only cover your ability to fly in London. Taking photos or videos is a separate topic. There are various legal issues to consider when filming buildings in London and in the UK generally. You need to be aware of visible logos, light displays, iconic buildings and so on. The guidelines issued by the Information Commissioner's Office can be found here.
In our example of the Queen's Gate Garden, you will need to contact the committee managing the Garden.
For many public locations in London, including most streets and parks, your first contact should be the local Borough Film Service.
That's all folks! In doubt, contact the CAA for more information. They'll always be able to help!