New UK Drone Regulations To Start At The End Of 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 (January 1, 2021): New drone rules in the UK and throughout Europe have started. This blog has been updated to reflect this.

UPDATE (November 6, 2020): CAP 722 has been revised, making several updates to the new drone laws. This includes guidance on PDRAs and changes to the drone registration test. Read more to find out how these updates affect you.

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 started in the UK and throughout Europe on December 31, 2020, removing the PfCO (Permission for Commerical Operations) but having the potential to unlock more flying opportunities for more people.

WATCH: New Drone Laws Overview Video

Please note that this video was made before the new laws were delayed, so it refers to the original July 1, 2020, start date, instead of the new December 31, 2020, commencement. The Transitional Period has also been extended to the end of December 2022.

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

The new rules do away with the limitations and ambiguity around commercial and non-commercial drone operations, and are instead 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The PfCO has been replaced by an Operational Authorisation. It is important to note that if you have a valid PfCO (valid beyond December 31, 2020), your permissions won’t now be null and void. Rather, they will be brought in line with the Operational Authorisation. You can read more about it here.

Under the new changes, three categories of operation have been 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 Standard 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 an overview to help you understand the changes. Or read our more detailed guide on UK drone laws.

What Do The New Regulations Mean?

In November 2019, the CAA launched the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service (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.

Under DMARES, the majority of drone users in the UK who are flying outdoors will need to register.

There are two aspects to DMARES and both might apply to you. These are:

  • if you’ll fly, you must pass a theory test to get a Flyer ID
  • if you’re responsible for a drone or model aircraft, you must register for an Operator ID

You do not need to register if you will only fly or use the following types of drone or model aircraft:

  • toys below 250g or in C0 class
  • those in C0 class with no camera, whether they are a toy or not
  • those below 250g with no camera and no class mark, whether they’re a toy or not.

Those with a drone under 250g, but which has a camera and is not classed as a toy, need to obtain an Operator ID. There is no requirement to get a Flyer ID, but taking the test is recommended.

Find out more here.

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 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.

A GVC qualification is needed to be able to apply to the CAA for an Operational Authorisation. You can take a GVC course with Heliguy. Find out more here.

The Operational Authorisation is 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.

You can find out more about PDRAs here.

UK Drone Laws: Standard Scenarios (STS)

As well as PDRAs, 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?

Valid PfCOs will be amended to bring them into line with the Operational Authorisation.

This means that operators who had a valid PfCO at the end of December 2020 do not need to panic and their permissions won’t suddenly become null and void.

Rather, the terms of their operating conditions will be amended to align with the Operational Authorisation. This will ensure that all relevant UAS operators hold the same privileges.

You can read more about it here.

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?

A new class-based system (C0-C4) has been introduced as part of the updated drone rules.

The class of drone will dictate which subcategory of the Open category you can fly in.

The criteria for each class is outlined below:

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.

However, no drones are currently on the market which have these new class markings.

Therefore, a Transitional Period is running from December 31, 2020, to December 31, 2022, meaning that current drones can continue to be flown, subject to the conditions in the new laws.

To find out how you can use your current DJI drone during the Transitional Period, click here.

Training Requirements

Heliguy has 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?

The A2 CofC training and tests are different from the DMARES training and test.

A2 Certificate of Competency (CofC)

The A2 CofC course is needed for operations within the A2 subcategory and the A1 subcategory using an A1 Transitional drone.

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

Candidates must also conduct a period of practical flight training, either with Heliguy or self-guided.

Following which, the candidate will be issued with an A2 CofC.

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 consists of a prescribed theoretical syllabus delivered by Heliguy’s 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.

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

Rules For Members Of Flying Associations

Shortly before the start of the new drone regulations, Article 16 was issued, which gave members of flying associations the chance to operate under an alternative set of rules, subject to meeting required criteria.

For more information, click here.

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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