Flying a drone in Edinburgh – challenges for a Drone Pilot

Drone photography Edinburgh - Calton Hill and Arthurs seat. Drone Photography Edinburgh
Drone Photography over Calton Hill and Arthurs seat, Edinburgh – Drone Scotland

Edinburgh can be a particularly challenging city for a Drone Pilot to navigate. There are a number of restrictions on where you can take off and land within the city. These restrictions are set by Edinburgh City Council. The regulations are intended to protect people and / or properties that are not involved in the activity. This, together with a nearby FRZ (Flight restriction zone) around the airport, can make Edinburgh a challenging city for a drone operator to fly in. However, If you can obtain the correct permissions then it’s worth it! The contrast of the new town and old town together with the backdrop of the Castle and Coast at make Edinburgh an amazing city to capture Drone Photography and Drone Video. In this blog we explore the challenges that you will need to overcome to fly safely and legally in the city of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh City Council UAV policy

The City of Edinburgh Council introduced a Drone Policy in response to an upsurge in public request and usage of drones (or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)) on council managed land including parks, roads and public open spaces. In their published policy the council explain “This increase in use comes from both the recreational and commercial sectors. Commercially drones have become more popular for filming and surveying, replacing traditional methods of aerial film and still capture like light aircraft, extended jibs, scaffolding, abseiling etc.” They go on to explain that much larger drones are now available to the commercial and public market, increasing the risk. These aircraft are required by National and European laws to be designed and manufactured to an approved standard, and very often require a great deal more space in which to operate. Therefore it is often necessary to take additional steps to ensure that the aircraft can be safely integrated with other parties – both in the air and on the ground.” (Edinburgh City Council Drone policy)

Edinburgh City Council state that In general terms, and in line with CAA advice, they may refuse requests made for recreational or commercial purposes as land owner to fly drones on City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) land.…

The policy states Exemptions will only be granted, where usage of a drone device;

aids risk reduction in the work place i.e. working at height, building survey work 

is to undertake a professional service, i.e. Festivals & Events Media, filming, etc. whilst working within the constraints of CAA guidance noted above.…
Drone Scotland - Drone Edinburgh City Centre
Drone Photography of Greenside Church, Edinburgh

So what does this mean for a Drone Pilot in Edinburgh?

In short, to obtain permissions, a Drone operator flying in Edinburgh will need to:-

  1. Demonstrate you have a very good reason to fly in the city. Our interpretation of this is that a Drone Pilot seeking to fly in Edinburgh is more likely to obtain permissions if the purpose for flying is assisting with Health and Safety or for commercial flights. For example building surveys that mitigate the risk associated with traditional methods of working at height OR professional film makers and videographers looking to capture footage of the city to be included in a production.

2) Produce the relevant documentation to confirm you have the correct permissions, competency and insurance.

Flight Plan highlighting the flight area and appropriate control points for the applicable areas where the SUAs will be flown, this should also include any Contingency flight area – any area the SUA may need to go should there be a reason to abandon the flight.

Evidence of CAA licence and/or competency. (An Operational Authorisation from the CAA)

Evidence of Public Liability Insurance

Confirmation of CAA permission (where required)

UAS details; including weight/dimensions/category

Risk Assessment and Method Statement which must be specific to the operation in question…

3) Obtain the correct permissions through the relevant channels as below.

  • Flying from roads – If a Drone Operator wants to fly in Edinburgh from any part of the roads network they will need to apply for permission via the “ROAD OCCUPATION PERMITS
  • Flying from or near trams/rail – Requests to fly from or near any part of the tram network should be made through the through the “AUTHORITY TO WORK PERMIT” outlined in the Code of Practice.
  • Flying from a public park or cemetery – should be made through the public safety team
  • Flying from a public highway – Requests via the public safety team
  • Flying from other land owned by the council – Requests via the public safety team…

Edinburgh Drone flying within the FRZ (Flight Restriction Zone)

It is illegal to fly a UAV within 5km of an airport in the UK with major penalties for those who break the law. You can however fly within the restriction zones if you obtain the correct permission fro air traffic control and/or Airport. A Drone Pilot seeking permission to fly a drone in the FRZ at Edinburgh Airport will need to fill in the request form on their website. In our experience we normally get a turnaround within 48 hours but do allow longer for busier periods of travel. i.e. April-September.

We like to work to best practise and at Drone Scotland we would normally contact air traffic control even if we are officially outside the FRZ but still close. We had a recent experience flying at Crammond beach. We were officially just a few metres outside the FRZ but decided to call it in out of courtesy anyway – and I’m so glad we did. They asked us to hold off 15 minutes to let an EasyJet plane pass. Sure enough the plane came in very close to our flight path 7 minutes later…… There would have been no collision but certainly would have caught us off guard.

Drone Scotland are highly skilled in Drone Photography, Drone Video and Aerial data capture in Edinburgh and across Scotland. For more information contact our team at or (0131) 203 3077

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