Model flying in the UK takes place under the legal constraints of the Air Navigation Order (ANO) which is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Several of the new and modified Articles of the ANO that were passed concern model aircraft, and there are extracts of the relevant articles for you to examine.
The document which covers operations of model aircraft in the UK is CAP658. You can download a copy in PDF format from the CAA website.
The implications of Articles of the ANO are very wide ranging and the BMFA constantly monitor their application by the CAA. Built in to the regulations, especially those Articles changed or added in 1996, is a strong element of deregulation but the corollary to this is that the CAA expect individual model flyers to be aware that they are responsible for their own actions.
With the 1996 changes to the ANO the CAA issued Civil Aviation Publication 658 (CAP 658) which specifically covers model flying. CAP 658 is a Code of Practice and is not part of the ANO.
It is a fine distinction with the major difference being that the ANO is the law and CAP 658 contains guidelines to aid safer flying although we strongly urge every model flyer to take very careful note of the following.
If the CAA ever consider prosecuting a model pilot under Article 56 (Endangering), the CAA Code of Practice for Model Flying is what they will use to decide if the pilot was acting unreasonably in the circumstances prevailing at the time of the incident.
The comments and advice we give below are the best we can give at this time. Any advice on legal matters must evolve as new facets of the legislation become apparent and we are sure that what is written here will be no exception.
For flyers of models below 7 kg the 1996 legislation makes no changes except to redefine models as small aircraft.
Article 64 applies, of course, and this should already be familiar to all model flyers as it is simply the old pre-1996 Article 51 renumbered. It is the one article which ALL model flyers must comply with, no matter how big or small their models (yes, it even applies to paper gliders).
Remember CAP 658 though, which can also be applied to ALL models. In general terms the Code says that, for any model aircraft flying
- Choose an unobstructed site.
- At all time keep a safe distance from persons, vessels, vehicles and structures.
- Only fly in suitable weather.
- Always fly with regard for other conditions such as local bylaws.
- Always fly with due consideration for other people and property.
There is much more in the CAP 658 than this, of course, but much of the remainder is based on the advice given in the BMFA Members Handbook.
For flyers of 7 kg to 20 kg models, the situation is much more complex.
To start with you DO NOT have to apply for an exemption certificate for your model.
This 1996 change means that the CAA will no longer issue you with a piece of paper detailing the conditions under which such a model can be flown.
This does not mean that the rules have all gone away.
With some modifications many of the pre-1996 exemption certificate rules for flying models over 7 kg have been transferred directly to the ANO. These are detailed on the first page of this feature and you should take very great care to note that these are now LEGAL REQUIREMENTS for any flight you make with a model between 7 kg and 20 kg.
Other pre-1996 rules have been transferred to CAP 658 where they remain as a guideline as to what is reasonable behaviour.
The main parts of the CAP 658 Code of Practice applying to models between 7 kg and 20 kg state that such models should only be flown:-
- When the weather is suitable.
- Clear of controlled airspace unless with ATC permission.
- Clear of any aerodrome traffic zone unless with ATC permission.
- Within sight of the operator at all times.
- Well clear of any congested area of city, town or settlement. Not closer than 150 metres is suggested.
- At least 50 metres clear of persons, vessels, vehicles or structures. This can be reduced to 30 metres for take off or landing. Other model operators and any assistants or officials may be within this distance; as may vessels, vehicles and structures under their control.
- With a serviceable fail-safe mechanism incorporated.
- With any load carried on the model secured.
- In compliance with any other conditions such as bylaws.
- With CAA permission if the flight is for commercial purposes.
Going back to the ANO itself, Article 87(2), clause (b) refers to Class A, C, D or E airspace. This can simply be regarded as any controlled airspace which reaches ground level. Your local airfield will know about this and if you enquire at Air Traffic Control (ATC) they will usually be able to tell you about your local situation. Call midweek as they are usually very busy at weekends.
Clause (c) allows you to fly in an Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) outside the notified hours of watch of the ATC unit. However, CAP 658 implies that it would be unreasonable to fly in an ATZ without ATC permission and it doesnt specify any time limits. To be safe we recommend that, even if you are flying when ATC is off watch you should have obtained prior clearance from them.
CAP 658 goes into obtaining permission from ATC in some detail and any ATC officer reading it will have no doubt that long term blanket permission to fly over 7 kg models can be granted to flying sites, not just to individual modellers. Be sure to have a copy of CAP 658 with you if you are talking to an ATC unit about such permissions as there is no guarantee that they will have one available.
If you have problems obtaining permission, there is a CAA arbitration procedure but you should make sure that you contact BMFA before you try to use this. We may be able to sort matters out without going to such measures but if not then BMFA will help you put your case to the CAA.
Clause (d) has an interesting connotation. It says that you are not allowed to fly a model over 7 kg above 400 ft outside controlled airspace.
Inside controlled airspace, however, you may fly to whatever height you can negotiate with the ATC unit that gives you permission to fly. In some cases this may be less than 400 ft but in many cases it may be more. It will depend on how busy the airspace above your flying site is and this can only be decided by the ATC unit. It is a significant point to bear in mind when talking to them.
The major legal requirement on flyers of model s over 7 kg that was brought in during the 1996 revision, however, comes with Article 87(2)(a) which states:
The person in charge of a small aircraft which weighs more than 7 kg without its fuel .... ... shall not fly such an aircraft:
unless the person in charge of the aircraft has reasonably satisfied himself that the flight can safely be made.
We believe that this clause should give flyers of large models significant reasons to consider their flying very carefully indeed. Just a few of the points which come to mind and which you might have to consider - BEFORE EACH TAKE OFF - could be:-
- Are you reasonably satisfied that the airframe of your model is sound and undamaged.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that all the control surfaces are secure and safe.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that your radio equipment is in a good enough order for the whole flight, including the level of battery charge of course.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that the frequency control regulations at the site where you are flying are good enough and that they are enforced well enough to enable you to make your flight safely.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that the site you are flying from will allow the safe operation of the model for the whole flight.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that spectators or other modellers will not be allowed to put themselves in a position where they can be endangered by your model at any time during the flight.
- Are you reasonably satisfied that the weather and visibility are suitable for the flight .
- Are you reasonably satisfied that you are competent to fly the aircraft. This might have major implications for those wishing to learn to fly on large models as the question could be asked how can you be reasonably sure that a learner pilot will not over stress the model in flight or get it into a situation where his instructor cannot recover?
Of course the above list is not exhaustive but we include it to give a flavour of what a pilot might be expected to consider before flying a large model under the 1996 legislation.
What must be remembered from now on is that:
UNDER THE ANO, THE PILOT OF ANY MODEL OVER 7 kg IS NOW DIRECTLY LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FLIGHT HE MAKES.
Models weighing over 20 kg
Flyers of models over 20 kg are not flying a model at all; As far as the CAA and the law is concerned you are flying an aircraft (and not a small aircraft either).
All such aircraft will need a CAA exemption certificate and the CAA will not issue a certificate unless airframe checks etc. have been completed and signed off by a competent individual whilst the aircraft is in the building stage.
If you are building or contemplating building a model over 20 kg then please contact the BMFA Leicester office for details of the inspection scheme.
If you are contemplating running a display or fly-in and you know that models weighing over 7 kg will be flown there is a site exemption available from the CAA which you should be aware of.
This will exempt your site from certain clauses of the ANO for the duration of the event. The most important of these is the 400 ft law which the CAA may be able to relax if they are satisfied that it will not endanger full size aircraft and that you are a responsible organiser.
There is no guarantee that such an exemption will be issued but you are strongly advised to apply for one for any such event.
If it is not issued then you must be aware that any model between 7 kg and 20 kg flying above 400 ft will be breaking the law and any model over 20 kg flying over 400 ft will be breaking the law unless its exemption certificate allows it to do so.
It any such case, your Flight Line Marshal will be severely compromised as CAP 658 now makes them responsible for all flying from the line they are controlling. The job is hard enough already without the additional burden of deciding whether flights are at a legal height so make sure that you have talked to the CAA about this well before the event takes place.