Flying small unmanned aircraft (SUA)

This guidance covers the flying of small unmanned aircraft (SUAs), eg. drones or model aircraft, on the University’s campuses.

SUAs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including fixed wing, rotary winged, or a combination of both. They all share the common characteristic that the person responsible for piloting the aircraft is not on board it. However, just like any other aircraft, an unmanned aircraft must always be flown in a safe manner.

Under the following circumstances, the flying of an SUA (20kg or less in weight) that is kept within the visual line of sight of the person flying it at all times when it is airborne will be permitted, provided the criteria detailed on this website are met.

  • Commercial purposes: To provide a service to the University (eg. aerial photography for promotional purposes)
  • Where it can be demonstrated that it is necessary for research purposes or as an integral part of a course of study (CAA categorise these as Private / Non-commercial)

Recreational use by staff, students and members of the public is not permitted.

For commercial use

The Commercial use of SUA is controlled by The Air Navigation Order 2016 & The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018. Pilots must hold a valid Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) from the CAA for any commercial work.

Using the Media Centre

The University’s Media Centre has an SUA and trained SUA pilots who are able to undertake aerial photography and video for departments. It is strongly recommended that their services are used in preference to an external provider. This will minimise the work you will need to do, as safety checks on Media Centre have already been carried out.

Please email or telephone 01206 87248

Where the Media centre is used, the Media Centre Manager/ relevant SUA operator will complete an SUA Use Permission Form (.docx) to confirm:

  • the expiry date of their CAA Permission (PfCO)
  • the expiry date of public liability insurance
  • the names of SUA Operators and Remote Pilots
  • that permission has been obtained from the person responsible for the land (see landowner permission below).

A location-specific risk assessment and method statement must also be submitted via the Estates and Campus Services Helpdesk.

Using an external commercial operator

If you want to arrange for a commercial operator to fly an SUA over one of the University’s Campuses, you must seek permission first by completing an SUA Use Permission Form (.docx) and forwarding it to the Estates Helpdesk at The exception is flights within the grounds of Wivenhoe House Hotel, for which permission should be sought from the Hotel.

If you need guidance on planning the work the Media Centre would be happy to provide advice.

You will need to provide the following information to the Estates Helpdesk before permission can be given:

  • a copy of the operator’s CAA standard or non- standard Permission for Commercial Operation (PFCO) (which should be dated within 12 months of the proposed flight date)
  • a copy of their public liability insurance to a minimum of £10 million. This should specifically cover the flying of SUA for the purpose it is intended (e.g. aerial filming)
  • a location-specific risk assessment and method statement (i.e. a description of what they intend to do)
  • confirmation that they will comply with the University’s requirements for ensuring privacy (.pdf)
  • a copy of their Operation Manual

It is expected that the commercial operator will need to visit the site prior to the proposed flight in order to carry out the location-specific risk assessment. Some preplanning could be done by looking at Google maps and the campus map. If the site-specific risk assessment cannot be provided until shortly before the event, an example of risk assessment for a similar flight (suitably anonymised) can be provided by the operator beforehand, so that advice can be given on whether it meets our requirements. This would save time when we come to approve the site-specific risk assessment.

Note: The CAA has a list of current holders of the CAA permission which is updated monthly. The DroneSafe Register can also be used to source CAA approved and insured SUA pilots.

For research and study purposes

Use of SUA for research and study purposes is covered by the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO). It is only permissible to fly without CAA permission for Commercial Operation if the research has not been funded by a business that intends to use the results of the data for its own business purposes. For further guidance on this refer to CAA guidance on how commercial Operators are defined.

To avoid ambiguity over whether permission is needed or not, it is strongly recommended that researchers consider applying for permission from the CAA, so that their services can be offered without constraint. The Media Centre Manager can provide guidance on CAA requirements if required, email or call 01206 872468.

By following the guidance below you will be complying with the ANO as well as the University’s requirements.

You must first seek permission to fly by completing an SUA Use Permission Form (.docx) and forwarding it to the Estates Helpdesk at Permission may be given for a series of flights, provided you notify the Helpdesk of the dates and time of proposed flights.

You will need to provide the Estates Helpdesk with a risk assessment and a description of what you intend to do. Your risk assessmentrisk assessmentrisk assessment should include the following areas:

  • competence to fly the SUA
  • area(s) where you intend to fly (note: the sports field must not be used unless you have obtained permission from the Director of Sport).
  • planning: take off, landing, area of flight, site specific hazards, potential for collision, weather conditions, wind speed parameters (taking account of the operator manual for the SUA).
  • confirmation that the CAA’s Drone Code will be followed
  • equipment maintenance
  • fail safes to deal with loss of the control signal and testing of fail safes
  • emergencies

You must have public liability insurance (see below).

You must confirm the actual times and locations you will be flying with the Estates Helpdesk at least a week beforehand. (A shorter notification period may be accepted provided prior permission for flying has already been given). The Helpdesk will inform the Security team.

You must follow the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone Code. This includes the following:

  • you must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the SUA to monitor its flight path in relation to other persons, vehicles, or structures
  • you must not fly over 400ft (120m) above a surface level
  • the SUAS must not be flown over or within 50m (150ft) of any people and property and 150m (500ft) of crowds and built up areas

You must not fly outside of the above limits.

Landowner permission and flight times

Landowner permission

By completing the SUA Use Permission Form you will be requesting permission to fly over the University’s land. You will also need to seek permission from the following:

  • the Director of Sport, if you intend to fly over sports fields
  • the General Manager of Wivenhoe House Hotel, if you intend to fly over the hotel grounds.
  • the landowner if the SUA is likely to go over non-university owned land, including the Meadows, Quays and Copse. Although this is not a legal requirement if not taking off or landing from this land it strongly advised in the event that the aircraft need recovering from this land.

Flight times and dates

  • You will need to specify specific times and days when you intend to carry out the flights and liaise with Communications and External Relations and the Students’ Union to ensure there are not events taking place on the day that will be affected. You may be restricted to quiet times (e.g. early Sunday mornings).
  • Permission may be given for a series of flights, provided you notify the Estates Helpdesk of the dates and time of all proposed flights.


Only SUA owned and operated by the University are covered by the University’s Public Liability Insurance. For this reason SUA used in teaching or research activities must preferably be University owned.

If SUA are not owned by the University, owners must provide evidence that they have public liability insurance to a minimum of £10 million.

The Insurance Officer must be provided with details of any SUA owned by the University, so that it can be ensured they are covered by the insurance.


You must not film people unless you have their permission. You must comply with the University’s requirements for ensuring privacy. (.pdf)


The CAA use the following definitions:

  • Small unmanned aircraft: any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite, having a mass of not more than 20 kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.
  • Commercial operation: any operation of an aircraft other than for public transport; which is available to the public or which, when not made available to the public, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator, in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.
  • Within the Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) of the person flying the aircraft: This means that the aircraft must be able to be clearly seen by the person flying it at all times when it is airborne. By doing this, the person flying the aircraft is able to monitor its flight path and so manoeuvre it clear of anything that it may collide with. While corrective spectacles can be used to look at the aircraft, the use of binoculars, telescopes, or any other image enhancing devices are not permitted. In simple terms, the aircraft must not be flown out of sight of a human eye
  • Congested area: means, ‘in relation to a city, town or settlement, any area which is substantially used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes’
  • Standard Permission: This enables a person to conduct commercial operations with a small unmanned aircraft (drone) and also permits drones weighing 7kg or less to be operated within a congested area. Potential operators are required to provide evidence of pilot competence and an Operations Manual which details how the flights will be conducted. Valid for 12 months
  • Non-Standard Permission: This covers all other types of flight and addresses operations that contain a greater element of operating risk; In addition to the requirements for a Standard Permission, applicants are also required to prepare and submit an Operating Safety Case (OSC) to the CAA. Valid for 12 months
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