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Use of drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

The tidal Thames is the busiest inland waterway in the UK.  At all times of the day and night this busy river is used by a wide variety of boats and larger vessels – from small recreational craft through to passenger boats and larger cargo and freight vessels. And London’s bridges, embankment areas and piers are popular areas for pedestrians from tourists and visitors to the wider general public.

Unregulated and careless drone use carries many potential hazards – ranging from risk of injury to passengers / crew on boats through to collision with oncoming vessels. There are also hazards to users of London’s busy bridges and passenger piers.

Consequently, the river is not a safe place for the routine use of any type of low flying aircraft – manned or unmanned. In particular the Thames cannot be regarded as a convenient ‘corridor’ or ‘space’ for drone flying.

However, there are occasions when professional film makers request use of a drone to film a particular scene or berth operators use them to survey their berth. In such instances, the request will be considered carefully, taking into account the following:

1. whether the applicant has carefully considered the potential hazards 

2. whether the scene/operation can be achieved without a drone, therefore avoiding disruption and potential hazard to river operations, eg by:

  • filming from a boat on the river
  • using a jib arm / crane / cherry picker on dry land or on the tidal foreshore area
  • using a manned helicopter operating at a safe altitude that does not disrupt river traffic (eg using existing helicopter flight paths in London)


In the event a drone is considered, this will be subject to the following requirements:

1. A minimum of four weeks’ notice of must be provided

2. The application should include:

  • proposed time and duration of filming
  • proposed location (to include a diagram showing flight area and take-off and landing site for the drone)
  • risk assessment and method statement
  • insurance including public liability
  • details of proposed drone operating company – ie CAA licences / certificates; type / size / weight of UAV

3. Applicant will also need to secure the following written consents for the specific date and location

  • Civil Aviation Authority
  • National Air Traffic Services
  • relevant riparian (riverside) local authority and landowner consent where the drone flight and exclusion area will impact on adjacent land
  • Metropolitan Police filming unit (in the central London area)

River traffic management

  • If appropriate, a PLA Notice to Mariners will be issued and river traffic controlled by the PLA for the duration of any filming. The costs of both these activities must be borne in full by the film maker
  • It is a basic requirement that the drone maintains a minimum of at least 50 metres from any person; vessel; bridge; pier; or other structure

As with all filming and photography on the tidal Thames, a filming licence fee is also payable to the PLA. The fee must be agreed in advance with the PLA and settled in advance of the licence being issued.