UK air law is documented in ’The Air Navigation Order’ issued by the Civil Aviation Authority. You can view the ANO it in its entirety here: http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP393.pdf
As model pilots we fall under “Small Unmanned Aircraft” and in some cases “Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft” and as such we are exempt from the vast majority of the Air Navigation Order. The articles that do apply to us are: 131, 138, 161, 164, 166, 167, 232
The following 4 are not really relevant to R/C and FPV and paraphrased descriptions are included here only for completeness – please open the PDF if you would like to read them in full.
131 - Dropping for the purposes of agriculture
161 - Power to prohibit or restrict flying
164 - A glider must not be winched or ground towed above 60 metres
232 - Except 232(2)(a) - CAA’s power to stop flying
The articles which are relevant to R/C, and FPV flying are: 138, 166 and 167.
Endangering safety of any person or property
138 A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.
Small unmanned aircraft
166 (1) A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.
(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.
(3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and Structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft:
(a) In Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained;
(b) Within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained; or
(c) At a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.
(5) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA. Small unmanned surveillance aircraft
167 (1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.
(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are:
(a) Over or within 150 metres of any congested area;
(b) Over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
(c) Within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft; or
(d) Subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.
(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.
(4) Paragraphs (2)(d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned
surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.
(5) In this article ‘a small unmanned surveillance aircraft’ means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.
At first it would appear that FPV flying would fall under article 167 for small unmanned surveillance aircraft because the ANO definition of an unmanned surveillance aircraft is as above in 167(5). However in situations where a camera is used for the sole purpose of controlling the aircraft the flight is not considered surveillance or data acquisition. (Use of that data for other functions could be though). CAP 722 (http://www.caa.co.uk/cap722) article 3.6 in Section 3 Chapter 1 page 4 refers to this, copied here: “The provision of image or other data solely for the use of controlling or monitoring the aircraft is not considered to be applicable to the meaning of ‘Surveillance or Data Acquisition’ covered at Article 167 for Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft.”
On the 21st September 2011 the CAA issued FPV UK with an exemption to 166(3) of the Air Navigation Order 2009 for full members only when they are flying models under 1.8kg, under 400ft, and are following the FPV UK operating procedures (Detailed in v1.0 of the FPV UK handbook here: FPV UK Handbook). If all of these things are true then instead of direct unaided visual contact the pilot may use a competent observer (Competent observer is defined in the FPV UK Handbook).
The complete wording of the exemption:
SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT – First Person View Flying
1) The Civil Aviation Authority (‘the CAA’) in exercise of its powers under article 242 of the Air Navigation Order 2009 (‘the order’), exempts any person in charge of a Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) from the requirement at article 166(3) of the Order to ensure that direct unaided visual contact is maintained with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.
2) This exemption is granted subject to the following conditions:
a) The person in charge of the SUA must be a full member of the FPV UK Association and comply with the operating procedures in the FPV UK Pilot’s Handbook version 1.0 dated 20 September 2011.
b) The person in charge must be accompanied by a competent observer who maintains direct unaided visual contact with the SUA sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehices, vessels and structures for the purpose of ensuring that the person in charge avoids collisions.
c) The take-off mass of the SUA must not exceed 1.8kg.
d) The SUA must not be flown at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface.
3) This exemption has effect from the date hereof until 30 September 2012, unless previously revoked.