The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has significantly grown in the United Kingdom (UK) over recent years. This is anticipated to continue as new and innovative uses are found, and the capabilities of UAS continue to develop. It has been estimated that there could be over 76,000 commercial drones in UK skies by 2030*.
UAS regulations in the UK

The regulations for the UK UAS industry date back several years and have gone through several amendments in that time. Regulations have been introduced and developed relating to requirements for permission from the CAA, operating near aerodromes and separation from military operations.

In June 2019, the European Union published a set of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) regulations including, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947, referred to as the Implementing Regulation (IR) and Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/945, referred as the Delegated Regulation (DR). The DR entered into force and became applicable on 1 July 2019. The IR entered into force on the same day and became applicable on 31 December 2020. Both regulations have been introduced and are applicable in the UK under the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018.

What do the new regulations mean for the UAS industry?

The Implementing Regulation

The Implementing Regulation introduces the procedures and rules for the operation of UAS. One of the key elements of this regulation is that the operation of UAS falls into one of three categories: open, specific and certified category. UAS operation in the open category presents a low or no risk to third parties and does not require authorisation. Operations under the specific category present greater risk than those under the open category, or one or more elements fall outside the boundaries of the open category; therefore, they need authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority based on a safety risk assessment. Operations under the certified category present the same risk as manned operations and so will be subject to the same regulatory regime, including certification of aircraft and the operator, licensing of the pilot.

The Delegated Regulation

The Delegated Regulation lays down the requirements for the design and manufacture of UAS and rules on making UAS intended for the use under the open category, including additional components. The regulation also sets out requirements for importers and distributors. Drones that are sold in ready to assemble kit form are also covered in this regulation

The UAS regulatory concept

The regulations intend to follow three basic concepts; operation centric, risk-based and performance- based. The focus is on the type of operation being conducted rather than who or what is conducting it or why it is being done. Because there is no one on-board, the consequence of an incident or accident are purely dependent on where that incident/accident takes place. Secondly, the regulation considers the risk that the operation presents and so more proof is required where the risk is greater. This means that the operational authorisations are no longer required on the basis that a UAS is being flown for commercial purposes, but it is the risk of the operation that is the deciding factor. Thirdly, in line with the performance-based approach, the requirement is to identify the capabilities of an aircraft rather than creating a set of prescriptive rules.

Implications for the UAS operators

The level of requirements that the UAS operator need to obtain to operate UAS is determined by the level of operational risk set by the aircraft of use, the level of pilot competency, type of operation etc. To operate UAS, the UAS will have to meet a set of product standards and certification requirements from 31 December 2022.

UAS regulatory training

If you are unsure what the latest UAS regulation mean for you and your organisation, the UK CAA UAS Unit will be discussing these changes on our Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulation virtual training course. The course explores the regulatory framework associated with the operation of UAS and the requirements for the manufacture and distribution of UAS. To apply, please visit our website or email our training team directly


*Countering Threats from Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) – GOV.UK (

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