Can you fly a drone in London?
London’s airspace is full of restricted areas, heliports and airports all of which have their own requirements when applying for drone permissions. Over the past decade our team has built up a system to fast track permissions, ensure that all relevant authorities are aware of our operations and conduct flights in a legal and most importantly a safe manor.
The Main Authorities:
The two main authorities we deal with on a weekly basis are the Parliamentary & Diplomatic Protection Unit also know as the PaDP and the Air Traffic Control or ATC teams that work across Londons airports and heliports. These two authorities work together when requesting approval in the from of an NSF or Non-Standard Flight application which we have to complete on a job by job basis for any work that falls in the restricted areas or airport airspace.
The PaDP ultimately call the shots with the restricted areas and the ATC call the shots in their respective airspace/CTR, where both restricted area and CTR meet approval is required from both authorities before any flights can commence. Areas where permissions from both authorities are required include the North side of the Canary Wharf or Nine Elms near Battersea Power Station.
- LONDON/CITY CTR – CONTROLLED TRAFFIC REGION
- HYDE PARK – RESTRICTED AREA – R157
- CITY OF LONDON – RESTRICTED AREA – R158
- ISLE OF DOGS – RESTRICTED AREA – R159
- LONDON HELIPORT – FLIGHT RESTRICTION ZONE
- LONDON CITY – FLIGHT RESTRICTION ZONE
Please note that there can be additional permission requirements depending on where you intend to launch from. Ensure council permissions have been obtained when operating from council owned land and the Port of London Authority/PLA when operating on the river Thames.
How to Get Permissions to Fly a Drone in Central London
The first step we undertake when seeking approval for a given restricted or ATC controlled area in London is requested with NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services. NATS have put together an online application for NSF (Non-Standard Flight) activities which can be found here. The application process takes around 5-10 minutes to complete and requests relevant project information including your drone serial number, CAA permissions, contact details, the area you wish to get approval for and many more. Depending on the location this will go through to the relevant authority for processing, as mentioned previously this might be the PaDP or the local ATC, sometimes both.
Be aware that the NSF approval might be subject to additional requirements so be sure to read your NSF document fully. Additional requirements can range from maintaining flights below a lower altitude than usual, fly at a limited distance from the site boundary or avoid filming or photographing a particular building, we’ve been asked to comply with each of these on many occasion and it pays to do so as they can monitor DJI drone flights remotely with the serial number you provided with your NSF document.
As the permissions can be retracted at any moment for a number of reasons or your shoot postponed its important to ensure you put some contingency dates into the NSF approval so that you don’t have to complete a second application for the same project should your shoot be postponed, this also saves unnecessary processing for the teams that deal with these requests. We typically put the approval in for a month at a time.
Now you’ve got permissions in place for the airspace the approvals required don’t stop there unless you are operating from private property. In some cases operating from council land or parks is required where there isn’t appropriate operating locations available for the shoot subject/location. This is a relatively easy process to complete but can be time consuming. The majority of councils work with a company called FilmFixer to handle the filming requests but some opt to carry out the permission process themselves and has be checked on a council by council basis.
Port of London Authority Permissions
Where operating on the river Thames its important to ensure that the PLA have been informed of your intended operation, this is due to the large number of vessels that work daily along the river. permissions for this can be obtained from the PLA website here. Please note that this permission is a paid service at approximately £300 per hour at the time of writing this post.