Does ‘drone SAR for lost dogs’ (searching for lost dogs using drones) require EC785/2004 (commercial) insurance? 

One could argue that for the purposes of EC785/2004, CAP722 defines ‘model aircraft’ as “any unmanned aircraft which is being used for sport or recreational purposes only”.  And therefore, if the aircraft is not being used for sport or recreational purposes, EC785/2004 compliant (commercial) insurance is required.  However, to quote the CAA’s policy team ‘This definition is not enshrined in law and therefore open to a degree of interpretation.’.

Below follows a thorough look at the legislation that applies here – for which I am very grateful to the CAA’s policy team.

My primary points of reference for this investigation have been 2018/1139 (BR), 2019/947 (IR), 2019/945 (DR), and 785/2004. Although I have consulted CAP722 it does not have the same legal basis as legislation and therefore our references should come from the above-mentioned pieces of legislation when discrepancies/questions arise. I have found nothing within 2018/1139 (BR), 2019/947 (IR), and 2019/945 (DR) that contradicts or supersedes 785/2004. 

Therefore 785/2004 should be taken as our primary reference on the subject including the definitions contained within it. Therefore, the definition of commercial operation, for matters which pertain to 785/2004, stand. If operators are acting on good will and not receiving remuneration then this would not be considered a commercial operation. Key findings are as follows:

  • 785/2004 does not apply to model aircraft with an MTOM of less than 20 kg.
  • 785/2004 does not apply to aircraft with a MTOM of less than 500 kg which are used for non-commercial purposes.

The definition we apply for the purpose of 785/2004 within CAP722 of ‘model aircraft’ being “any unmanned aircraft which is being used for sport or recreational purposes only”. This definition is not enshrined in law and therefore open to a degree of interpretation. However, my response should not dissuade you from obtaining independent legal advice on the matter if you wish to do so.

CAA Policy Team – 2022


The explanation/ guidance above shows that each operation should be judged on its own merits with advice to your members still being one of caution. 

A simple interpretation is that if the remote pilot intends to perform the flight for the return of monies or for valuable consideration, then it is commercial.

CAA Sector Team – 2022

This explanation from the CAA makes a crucial change to the argument I laid out at the beginning of this post.  ‘
EC785/2004 insurance is required for anything that isn’t sport or recreation’, becomes ‘EC785/2004 insurance is required for activities which are commercial’.

Therefore it stands to reason that the £5m non-commercial public liability insurance, which is part of FPV UK membership, would be sufficient for lost dog SAR activities. 

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