West London Model Aeroplane Club

Legal update

The laws governing model flying have changed again, coming into effect at the start of 2021.  These have completely replaced the existing laws and any flights not fitting into the allowed categories would be illegal. 

More info and the BMFA competency test is available on their sub-site for legal stuff: https://rcc.bmfa.uk/


How it affects us - short version

In practice the new rules make little difference to what we do at the moment, due to the BMFA's Article 16 authorisation.

If you have a pre-2021 A/B certificate, and are using that as your proof of competence, you MUST go onto the BMFA portal at https://bmfa.azolve.com/ and tick the box to say you understand Article 16.  Until you do so it is illegal to fly.  This is not necessary if you have done the BMFA online RCC test, or the CAA DMARES test.  The BMFA recommend doing the rcc test even if you don't need it, as a way of getting up to speed on the rules.

The rules that came into force in 2019 regarding operator IDs, competence etc still apply.

The CAA now insist on reporting of incidents.  The rules already existed but were not widely followed.  Any injury, serious incident (=high risk of injury occurring) or other occurrence (=anything dodgy) which involved flight above 400ft, within 50m of uninvolved people, or a model that flew out of line of sight must now be reported. 

The BMFA has a page with more details of what needs to be reporting and an online tool which asks a few questions and will lead you through any necessary reporting.  Their page is here: https://rcc.bmfa.uk/reporting

Models can fly above 400ft if they are under 7.5kg and not multi-rotors.  Pickeridge however will be limited to 400ft due to the proximity of Denham aerodrome.


The legal framework

To be legal in 2021 a flight must fall into one of 3 categories:

Open - this is the version open to anyone to rock up and fly.  This has restrictions on the combination of model size/weight and proximity to people and built-up areas.  However it is very restrictive except for VERY small models (under 250g); and any recreation area such as parks or beaches is restricted even if deserted.  We are not (in general) using this.  Much information on the web for drone flyers may be describing this category.

Specific - this is the category for flying with custom permission from the CAA.  The "Article 16 authorisation" is our permission to fly in this category.  Our flying is all under this authorisation.

Certified - this covers very complex operations and is subject effectively to the same rules as full-size aviation.  This category does not apply to us.


Article 16 Authorisation

This is the permission under which we fly, and allows flying not directly available to non-BMFA members.  This covers all flying at club sites.  You can also use this authorisation elsewhere, but should check the rules if flying in "built-up" areas, including all sports fields and parks.

If you want the details, there is an excellent guide to Authorisation on the BMFA rcc website: https://rcc.bmfa.uk/article-16.  This same text was in the Jan 2021 BMFA News.

Note that this is only applicable to current BMFA members.  So if a lapsed member flies it is no longer just an insurance question - the flight is now outright illegal (unless it fits the Open category, which is unlikely)


What has changed

If flying within the authorisation, not much.

The weight limits have increased to 7.5kg (some restrictions apply, such as 400' limit) and 25kg (can only fly under the LMA scheme) - and these weights now include fuel.

We cannot fly within 30m (diagonally, not horizontally) of any "uninvolved" person.  The distance varies in some cases, but for flying at our sites, assume 30m.  An uninvolved person is someone who has not been given any safety info by a club member - basically random strangers who wander in.  Club members and guests do not count.  If a stranger does wander in, once someone has explained where they can stand, and any risks, they are "involved" and the 30m no longer applies.

There is a minimum age of 10 to fly without close supervision.  And 14 years to be the supervising instructor.

It is a condition of the authorisation (and therefore a legal requirement) to comply with BMFA and club rules.


IDs and what you need to have with you when flying

These are largely unchanged from 2020.

Operator ID: all models must carry the operator ID of the legal operator.  This is NOT (necessarily) the pilot.  Think of it as similar to the "registered keeper" of a car.  The operator is responsible for the maintenance and only allowing legal pilots to fly it.  This ID is obtained by paying the CAA £9 - which is usually done via the BMFA, and at the moment the club is paying this.  No test of any kind is required (and a non-flying parent can do this on behalf of under 18s)  2021 operator IDs will be different from the 2020 ones.  Don't confuse this with a "Flyer ID" from the CAA which is not needed - see below.

Proof of competence: all pilots must have with them "proof of competence".  This can be any ONE of the following:

- BMFA membership card with an A/B certificate from 2020 or earlier; only valid for current BMFA members (and you must have ticked the article 16 box on the membership portal, as above)

- Proof of a BMFA rcc test pass (their online legal test).  This will also appear on your card ONLY IF you upload the cert to the BMFA portal after passing it.

- A CAA "Flyer ID" issued on completion of their "DMARES" online legal test.  This is not recommended as it is very drone focused, so you would need to learn a load of irrelevant stuff.

Student pilots under "close supervision" are not legally pilots - the instructor is the pilot - and so don't require a proof of competence.  If flying their own model, they probably will have their own operator ID on the model, however.  Students need to do the BMFA rcc test before flying under looser supervision.

Flyer ID - not needed: this is not, in general, relevant to us, and you don't need one unless you've done the DMARES test instead of any of the (more relevant) BMFA options.  This is what drone operators outside the BMFA will usually be using and may appear in a lot of online info, but our alternative competences are recommended.