New Drone Regulations To Start In The UK In Summer 2020

  • New European drone regulations are to start in the UK in 2020. They will impact anyone who flies a drone;
  • The new rules have the potential to unlock more flying opportunities for more people;
  • The PfCO is being replaced by a new system;
  • Three new categories of operations are being introduced, relating to the level of risk involved in your flight;
  • New drone classes will be introduced based on weight and other specifications.

UPDATE (June, 5, 2020): The European drone regulations which were set to start in the UK in July have been delayed for a second time and will now start on December 31, 2020. Read more about it and how it affects you here.

New drone regulations are to be introduced in the UK on December 31, 2020, which will remove the PfCO (Permission for Commerical Operations) but have the potential to unlock more flying opportunities for more people.

The changes are designed to align with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and build on the recently-introduced Drone and Model Aircraft Registration Scheme in the UK.

The new rules will do away with the limitations and ambiguity around commercial and non-commercial drone operations, and will instead be based around the type of drone you have and where you fly it.

In some cases, this will mean that you will be able to fly over people, or even get as close to five metres to people – opening up huge possibilities for certain missions.

The PfCO will be replaced by an Operational Authorisation. It is important to note that if you have a valid PfCO, you can continue to renew with the same provisions currently afforded by the permissions for the foreseeable future.

Under the new changes, three categories of operations will be introduced. These are Open, Specific and Certified, and relate to the level of risk involved. In summary:

  • Open Category: Low-risk operations will not require any authorisation, but will be subject to strict operational limitations.
  • Specific Category: For medium-risk operations, operators will have to require an authorisation from the national aviation authority on the basis of a standardised risk assessment or a specific scenario.
  • Certified Category: In case of high-risk operations, classical aviation rules will apply.

On the face of it, it may seem daunting, and there is bound to be some confusion initially, but these new regulations have the potential to open up a huge amount of operations to people who are flying drones.

It means that people will be able to fly commercially but without too many restrictions. The changes reflect enhancements in technology and training will be based on a tiered system, depending on your operations.

Here is our in-depth guide to help you understand the changes. Heliguy will be publishing a series of future blogs on the new rules.

Background To The Changes

Towards the end of 2019, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) released Version 2 of Civil Aviation Publication (CAP) 722B. The release of the document marks the beginning of the transition of National Legislation to align and harmonise with that of other member states within the European Union (EU).

The document follows the release of CAP 1789 earlier in the year which outlined EU regulation package. The implementing regulation will now officially come into force on December 31, 2020. The start date has been delayed twice – originally due to commence in July 2020, and then November – due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Will Brexit Have An Impact?

Of course, as soon as you mention anything in relation to the EU, the big Brexit question will inevitably follow.

As of June 2020, the CAA has said that ‘as part of the Brexit Treaty, the UK is required by international law to implement any elements of EU regulation that come into force and become applicable within the (Brexit) transition period (to 31 December 2020). Therefore, the new drones laws will become applicable within the UK on Thursday, December 31, 2020.’

What Do The New Regulations Mean?

In November 2019, the CAA launched the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration Scheme (DMARES); the first step to align with the EU regulations. Within the first month of the scheme’s launch, in-excess of 67,000 registrations were made; either as Operators or Flyers of Unmanned Aircraft.

The CAA DMARES not only facilitates national registration but also introduced a basic competency for any Remote Pilot of Small Unmanned Aircraft weighing 250g or greater.

The system seeks to ensure any individual flying a drone understands the basic safety principles in relation to their aircraft, airspace and themselves as a remote pilot.

With DMARES now in full-swing, any drone of 250g or greater must be marked with the operator’s identification number issued by the CAA once the DMARES 20-question multiple-choice examination has been successfully completed.

From December 31, 2020, any operator of a drone which weighs less than 250g but has a camera (other than a toy), such as the new DJI Mavic Mini, must also be registered.

Removing The Distinction Between Commercial And Non-commercial Operations

To start with, one the biggest changes with the new regulations will be the removal of the distinction between commercial and non-commercial drone operations.

Once the new regulations come into effect, a variety of new risk-based and operation-centric categories will distinguish the requirements, as opposed to the commercial aspect.

If you are a PfCO holder, then that information may come of great concern to you and your business, however, when we dissect the requirements of each category, you will quickly see that you still possess a much-desired advantage as a qualified remote pilot.

Up until December 31, 2020, anyone wanting to operate commercially can sit a GVC course with Heliguy, which has replaced our former PfCO training.

Until 31 December 2020, candidates will be taught a hybrid syllabus, comprising the current and future drone regulations for the UK.

Upon successful completion of the GVC course, candidates can apply to the CAA for Standard Permissions to operate commercially.

From December 31, 2020, holders can continue to operate under the terms of their current permissions, but on renewal, these will convert to an Operational Authorisation (replacing the term PfCO).

A Guide To The Categories

Open Category

The Open Category contains three distinct subcategories, differentiated by aircraft, competency requirement and operating distance of the drone in relation to uninvolved persons.

It is the most exciting category as it has the potential to open up more operations for more people.

A breakdown of the CAA's new Drone Operating Areas.
A breakdown of the new Drone Operating Areas.

*Please note that Article 22 relates to Article 22 of EU 2019/947.

Specific Category

The simplest description of a Specific category operation is that it is a UAS operation that ‘cannot be done within the Open category, but is not complicated enough for the certified category’.

The key point to note is that the category hinges on an Operational Authorisation being held by the UAS operator, which has been issued by the CAA, before the operation can be commenced.

For UK UAS operators, the process should be very similar to the current permissions and exemptions process in that the UAS operator is required to tell the CAA:

  • what, where and how the unmanned aircraft will be operated;
  • demonstrate that the operation is ‘safe enough’ through the provision of a safety risk assessment/safety case.

The Specific Category will appear fairly similar to the current requirements of the PfCO; however, what will soon become legacy terminology will be replaced by an Operational Authorisation.

The Operational Authorisation will be based upon a risk assessment that is completed by the UAS operator, or through a series of Pre-Defined Risk Assessments (PDRA) and/or Standard Scenarios (STS).

This means that individuals or organisations that wish to operate a drone within the specific category must either provide a risk assessment to the CAA (by following the OSC – Operating Safety Case – process), or adhere to the requirements of the PDRA and/or STS.

UK Drone Laws: Pre-Defined Risk Assessments (PDRA)

In some cases, the requirements for the UAS operator to provide a ‘full’ safety risk assessment may be able to be lifted, which means that the UAS operator is required to provide a lesser amount of documentation to the CAA in order to obtain an operational authorisation.

This type of approach would apply to operations that would likely be conducted by a large number of operators (i.e. it is a pre-defined scenario), but the safety mitigations are relatively simple.

In these cases, the CAA conducts the risk assessment, rather than each individual operator, and then publishes a short series of requirements (covering topics such as remote pilot competency, ops manual contents etc) that the UAS operator must provide to the CAA as part of a ‘shortened’
application for an operational authorisation. This is a prescriptive set of instructions that must be followed, leading to a ‘known’ operation with a known and understood risk, that must be authorised on the basis of following the set of instructions.

Individual PDRAs will be published within CAP722 and will be added to as and when an appropriate need arises. Each will be individually numbered (E.g. UKPDRA01, UKPDRA02 etc).

UKPDRA01 will be built around the current ‘standard permission’ that is issued by the CAA for operations within congested areas and for commercial operations, and will contain the same privileges (i.e. operating within congested areas, 30 metres from uninvolved persons during takeoff and landing, and 50 metres during flight). EASA has also published the first of its ‘EU PDRAs’, named PDRA-01, within the AMC and GM to the IR.

Please note that the UAS operator must still apply to the CAA for an operational authorisation in order to fly under the terms of a PDRA.

Current holders of a PfCO will be pleased to hear that the current provisions of a ‘standard’ permission will be converted into a PDRA.

UK Drone Laws: Standard Scenarios (STS)

The EU UAS regulations also introduce a ‘standard scenario’ concept where, for some relatively simple types of operation, the burden on UAS operators is removed through the use of a number of ‘pre-assessed’ operating procedures and can simply ‘declare’ his/her intent to operate to the
CAA.

However, STS do not become applicable until December 2, 2021. Therefore, until the effects of Brexit are fully known, the UK will not be implementing STS and operators should not consider their use any further.

What Happens If You Have A Valid PfCO?

The key point to note is that operations which are currently conducted under a permission or exemption issued by the CAA will not suddenly become illegal or unsafe on December 31, 2020. These operations will be able to continue until the expiry date, and can then be renewed (as an operational authorisation).

This means that if you currently hold a PfCO, you can continue to renew with the same provisions currently afforded by the PfCO for the foreseeable future. The change in regulation must, however, be reflected within the Operations Manual accordingly.

For those who had a PfCO which has since expired, it is recommended that you reapply for a PfCO before the new rules start, or conduct an A2 Certificate of Competency (CoC) or General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC) training delivered by a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE) such as Heliguy. The CoC and GVC will be explained in more detail later in the blog.

Certified Category

The Certified Category is reserved for operations of the highest complexity and bespoke applications, which will fall outside the remit of the masses.

Such applications include cargo-carrying and passenger unmanned aircraft, yet due to the complexity of the like, there is considerable work required to integrate such applications into the UK airspace.

Types Of Drones

Now that we’ve covered the categories, you’re probably wondering about types of drones?

The new regulations replace the current weight classifications of drones from that of a Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) weighing between 0-20kg and UAS weighing in-excess of 20kg.

New drones that are to be sold on the open market and intended for use in the Open Category will be marked by the manufactures as complying with one of five classes as shown in the table below.

The revised drone classifications now incorporate the Maximum Take-Off Mass (MTOM), maximum speed, sound power level and potential impact energy transference for any drone which is operated within the Open Category.

ClassRequirements
C0Are less than 250g maximum take-off mass;
Have a maximum speed of 19m/s (approx 42.5mph);
Are unable to be flown more than 120m (400ft) from the controlling device.
C1Either less than 900g maximum take-off mass or are made and perform in a way that if they collide with a human head, the energy transmitted will be less than 80 Joules.

Have a maximum speed of 19m/s (approx 42.5mph);
Designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people.

The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits, height limits, and requirements for remote identification and geo-awareness systems.
C2Are less than 4kg maximum take-off mass;
Designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people;
Are equipped with a ‘low-speed mode’ which limits the maximum speed to 3m/s (approx 6.7mph) when selected by the remote pilot.

The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits (but different from C1), height limits and requirements for remote identification and geoawareness systems, plus additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight.
C3Are less than 25kg maximum take-off mass
C4Unmanned aircraft that do not possess any automation, other than for basic flight stabilisation (and so are more representative of a ‘traditional’ model aircraft) which are less than 25kg maximum take-off mass.

A Transitional Period will run from the start of the new laws to December 31, 2022. This has been extended in the wake of the delay to the start of the new laws. To find out how you can use your current DJI drone during the Transitional Period, click here.

Training Requirements

In preparation for the implementation, Heliguy is excited to have transitioned from a CAA-approved NQE to an RAE, to deliver the A2 Certificate of Competency (CofC) and the General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC).

RELATED ARTICLE: What kind of drone training do you need?

Operating a drone in each category has a varied requirement depending on the level of competence. As a very basic requirement, every remote pilot should have read the comprehensive user manual provided with the drone.

This is essential in understanding how to correctly prepare and configure the drone for flight, as well as best practice maintenance; ensuring your drone is airworthy. The CAA’s DMARES training and examination must also be undertaken by each operator and flyer.

A2 Certificate of Competency (CofC)

The A2 CofC course can be booked now and you can start your learning from today.

It consists of a prescribed theoretical syllabus, delivered by Heliguy’s expert training instructors, followed by completion of a multiple-choice examination.

On successful completion of the course and examination, candidates must either practical flight training, either with Heliguy or self-guided.

Following which, the candidate will be issued with a certificate of remote pilot competency for the A2 subcategory.

You can complete your A2 CofC through Heliguy’s online drone training platform, Blackbox.

General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC)

The GVC is a remote pilot competency certificate which provides a single qualification that is suitable for VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) operations within the Specific Category.

The Specific Category hinges on an Operational Authorisation being held by the drone operator, which has been issued by the CAA, before the operation can be commenced.

The GVC course – which can be booked and conducted now – consists of a prescribed theoretical syllabus delivered by Heliguy’s expert training instructors, followed by completion of a multiple-choice examination.

Following completion of the course, candidates are required to produce an Operations Manual embracing the applicable PDRA and will undergo a practical flight assessment with a flight examiner. Following successful completion, candidates will receive a recommendation for the issue of the GVC.

Because Heliguy is no longer running the PfCO course, candidates sitting the GVC will currently be taught a hybrid syllabus, comprising the current and future drone regulations for the UK.

Upon successful completion of the GVC course, candidates can apply to the CAA for Standard Permissions to operate commercially.

From December 31 2020, holders can continue to operate under the terms of their current permissions, but on renewal, these will convert to an Operational Authorisation.

You can complete your GVC through Heliguy’s online drone training platform, Blackbox.

What if you already operate under an existing PfCO?

Permissions and exemptions valid beyond December 31, 2020, will still remain valid until their expiration date.

Individuals and organisations must consider whether they wish to then re-apply to operate in the Specific Category under an Operational Authorisation, or undertake the A2 CofC training with an RAE.

Heliguy is pleased to offer renewal consultation to assist individuals and organisations implementation of the regulations.

Conclusion

In summary, while these changes may appear daunting at first, they seek to introduce some quite unique opportunities to operate drone safety and open up more flight options for more people.

For more information and to clarify anything, give us a call and speak to our helpful training instructors who will be on standby to advise and assist on suitable options.

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New Drone Regulations To Start In The UK In Summer 2020
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New Drone Regulations To Start In The UK In Summer 2020
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New drone regulations are to be introduced in the UK next year - ending the PfCO but unlocking more flying opportunities for more people. Read our in-depth guide.
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Heliguy
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