Are Drone Light Shows Legal in the UK?

One of my companies, provides Drone Light Shows in the UK. But are they legal?

We hold Operational Authorisation from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly swarms of display drones. However… article 82 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 reads:

“Save in such circumstances as may be prescribed, no aircraft while in the air over any part of the United Kingdom shall be used, whether wholly or partly for emitting or displaying any advertisement or other communication in such a way that the advertisement or communication is audible or visible from the ground.”

Now imagine that we flew an advert for the red and white fizzy drink brand, theoretically, the red and blue fizzy drink brand could ask the Police to stop us from flying this and if the Police did not put an end to our aerial advertising activities, then the red and white fizzy drink brand could theoretically take us to court in a civil claim for breaching article 82.

Having spent thousands of pounds on creating an Operating Safety Case and getting it through to Operational Authorisation, we were a little saddened that the CAA, even up to their Office of the General Counsel, could offer us no advice regarding this obvious conflict of interest. So we asked the Department for Transport who responded rather unhelpfully that:

“Regarding section 82 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982, it should be noted that an Operational Authorisation relates only to the aviation safety aspects of an operation and the holder is still required to comply with all relevant aviation and non-aviation regulations applicable to their operation, such as privacy and GDPR requirements, and the issue of an Operational Authorisation does not affect those obligations.”

So you then ask yourself, why are the CAA even granting Operational Authorisation for an activity that potentially, legally, cannot be flown? It’s a bit like saying we are endorsing your illegal operations from a safety perspective.

I have long argued that the CAA’s approach to drone law (inherited from EASA) is far too focused on predicate aviation legislation and forgets to think about or encompass land law (despite the obvious implications that come with drones flying much closer to land than other forms of aviation).

I believe this is one case where the CAA has failed to even review, their own, existing UK aviation legislation.