Historic Environment Division (HED) policy statement regarding drones

What are popularly known as drones – but also referred to as remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), small unmanned aircraft (SUA) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) – come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from small hand-held types up to large aircraft.

Drones have been emerging beyond the confines of the military and are now used in a wide range of industries, such as:

  • Inspection of public facilities;
  • Safety (including inspecting high, dangerous structures);
  • Mapping; and
  • Aerial photography.

Civilian use of drones has also been growing, as consumer-grade devices become increasingly sophisticated and cheaper. Some also have in-built surveillance features. However, a number of incidents and near misses have reinforced public concerns about safety, privacy and security as well as the difficulty of tracing drone operators and/or owners in the event of incidents.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the independent statutory authority responsible for regulating civil aircraft, including drones. Relevant legislation is contained chiefly in the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and the Air Navigation Order 2016, the  Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018, - Guidance for small unmanned aircraft users and the detailed guidance set out in the CAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace – Guidance .

The Drone code and Drone Assist

To explain the risks of drones and users’ safety obligations, the CAA introduced The Dronecode – a ‘common sense’ interpretation of the regulations. This was supplemented by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in December 2016 by the launch of an app – Drone Assist – to help drone pilots comply with UK rules on safety and airspace.

Flying Drones at Historic Environment Division (HED) sites and properties

All aerial activity above our sites requires specific permission which can be granted by HED. For further information and an application form please contact scmenquiries@communities-ni.gov.uk or phone State Care Monuments Enquiries on 028 9082 3207.

The reason permission must be sought is informed by health and safety regulations as well as issues of privacy.

  • CAA regulations state that drones should not be flown above or near to people. As our properties often have staff working on site, visitors present or have open access, unauthorised drone flying is both illegal and potentially puts people at risk.
  • Pilots need to ensure they have insurance in place in case a drone causes damage or harm to persons or property.
  • Some sites may have wildlife or agricultural animals, or animals which are sensitive to disturbance, such as birds and deer herds, which could be alarmed or stressed by the presence of drones, especially at breeding times.  
  • Many drones have cameras attached and these could infringe data protection laws (filming people without permission) and potentially could contravene Historic Environment Division rules on commercial photography and filming.
  • The presence of drones can impinge on the quiet enjoyment of our sites by other visitors and therefore potentially presents a public nuisance risk.  

Flying by contractors

We do occasionally grant permission for the use of drones if there is a benefit in doing so. Such occasions could include roof inspections. However, in such cases we will specifically commission the work and the selection of contractor, their competence (they must be a registered commercial operator with the CAA) and the level and type of their insurance is carefully vetted. In addition we have a number of rules which must be observed by the contractor whilst planning and undertaking the work.


We may grant permission for drone-related filming in certain circumstances. In general terms the filming organisation or individual must follow the same competency and insurance rules as those required for contractors. In addition the filming must be agreed with our communications office. Contractually the footage can only be used for the named project and further use including image libraries is prohibited.   

In terms of the General Data Protection Regulations 2018 filming of people who have not given permission e.g. at an event or a visitor is a privacy intrusion and therefore is in breach of the GDPR.

The Law as defined by the Civil Aviation Authority

The following pieces of legislation and guidance will explain the legal position and requirements:

  • The Air Navigation Order 2016
  • The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018
  • Civil Aviation (CAP) Publications 393, 1687 and 722
  • Civil Aviation Authority ‘The Drone Code’

The 2018 Amendment Order amends provisions of the Air Navigation Order 2016 (“the 2016 Order”), in particular in relation to small unmanned aircraft. “Small unmanned aircraft” is defined in Schedule 1 to that Order and includes the type of aircraft commonly known as small drones.

The flying of small unmanned aircraft is currently regulated by articles 94 and 95 of the 2016 Order, which mainly apply to the “person in charge of” the aircraft. The amendments made by this Order change this approach, so that provisions in the 2016 Order about small unmanned aircraft (including provisions added by this Order) will instead apply to two new categories of person defined in new article 94G (inserted by article 7 of this Order): the “remote pilot” (defined as an individual who remotely operates the aircraft’s flight controls, or who monitors its course while it is flying automatically and is able to intervene by operating the flight controls) and the “SUA operator” (defined as the person who has the management of the aircraft).

Article 94(4)(c) of the 2016 Order currently prohibits flying a small unmanned aircraft over 400 feet above ground, but this applies only to aircraft with a mass of more than 7kg. Article 7 of this Order replaces this with wider prohibitions applying to all small unmanned aircraft with effect from 30th July 2018. These prohibit the remote pilot from flying the small unmanned aircraft, and the SUA operator from causing or permitting it to be flown, more than 400 feet above ground (see new article 94A), or over or within 1km of a protected aerodrome at certain times (see new article 94B), unless permission has been obtained from the person set out in the new provisions. “Protected aerodrome” is defined in article 94B(5) and the Secretary of State will have power to make regulations adding additional aerodromes or descriptions of aerodrome to this list.

The restrictions on flying over or near aerodromes differ depending on whether the flight takes place during the notified hours of watch of any air traffic control unit or flight information service unit at the aerodrome. “Air traffic control unit”, “flight information service unit” and “notified” are defined in Schedule 1 to the 2016 Order.

Article 7 of this Order also introduces new procedural requirements applying to small unmanned aircraft with a mass of 250 grams or more. From 30th November 2019 these provisions will prohibit the remote pilot from flying the small unmanned aircraft, and the SUA operator from causing or permitting it to be flown, unless the SUA operator has a valid certificate of registration and the registration number is displayed on the aircraft (see new articles 94C and 94D) and the remote pilot has a valid acknowledgement of competency (see new articles 94E and 94F). Certificates of registration and acknowledgements of competency will be issued by the Civil Aviation Authority, but they will not be required to accept applications before 1st October 2019. The Secretary of State will have power to make regulations prescribing the minimum age requirement for registration as an SUA operator (see new article 94C(1)(c)) and the manner in which the registration number must be displayed on the aircraft (article 94D(2)(b)).

Article 10 of this Order amends Schedule 13 of the 2016 Order so as to include the new prohibitions affecting SUA operators and remote pilots in the list of provisions which, if breached, give rise to an offence under article 265 of the 2016 Order.

Article 5(b) makes a consequential change to insert references to the new provisions into article 23(3) of the 2016 Order. In addition article 5(a) inserts into article 23(3) of that Order a missing cross-reference to article 93 (release of small balloons), and article 5(c) clarifies that certain ancillary articles of the 2016 Order also apply to small unmanned aircraft and certain other small craft (small balloons, kites weighing not more than 2kg, and parachutes).

The law as set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) states that as a drone operator you cannot operate a drone and receive any form of payment without a Permission for Commercial Operations (PFCO). This also affect organisation that employ drone operators and breaking this law will result in fines for both the operator and the organisation. The following excerpt from the Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2016 sets out the basic guidelines for drone operators and must be STRICTLY adhered to at all times. Drones fall under “Small Unmanned Aircraft” (SUA) and in some cases “Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft” (SUSA) and as such are exempt from the vast majority of the ANO.

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