UK Drone Laws: A2 CofC v GVC

  • An in-depth guide comparing the A2 CofC (Certificate of Competency) and the GVC (General Visual Line of Sight Certificate);
  • Find out which is the best training course to take and how it can give you greater freedom with your drone after the new European rules begin in the UK;
  • Find out what the new regulations mean for your current DJI drone;
  • Book your training with Heliguy. Early-bird offers are currently available;
  • You can complete your training online, via Heliguy Blackbox.

UPDATE (June 8, 2020): The European drone regulations which were set to start in the UK in July, and then in November, 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.

Drone laws in the UK will change in December and many pilots will need to obtain an A2 Certificate of Competency (CofC) or a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC).

In this blog post, we will highlight what these accreditations mean, explore the differences between them, help you identify which drone training course you should take, and how Heliguy’s expert and experienced training team can help you.

Candidates can undergo online drone training via Heliguy Blackbox.

RELATED ARTICLE: Why you should do your drone training with Heliguy

To find out more about the new regulations, click here.

A2 CofC v GVC – Overview

The GVC course is more expensive than the A2 CofC, the Ground School course is longer (two days v one day), and the requirements to obtain a GVC are more complex than the A2 CofC.

The GVC course will involve a theory exam and you will also have to complete an Operations Manual and pass a practical flight test, while A2 CofC candidates need to sit an exam and complete a period of practical flight training (either with Heliguy or under self-monitored circumstances).

And there’s a good reason for this. In a nutshell, the GVC is a remote pilot competency qualification, suitable for most VLOS operations within the new Specific category (aimed at the majority of enterprise aircraft, broadly speaking). You will need a GVC to obtain an Operational Authorisation (which is similar to a PfCO).

As a side note, while the term PfCO will end when the new regulations start, pilots who have a valid PfCO come December 31, 2020, will still be able to operate under these permissions.

In contrast, the A2 CofC is geared more towards recreational users and some professional pilots who are operating aircraft such as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom, or the Phantom series.

In essence, though, the regulations are intended to do away with the limitations and ambiguity around commercial and non-commercial drone operations, and instead follow three basic concepts, based around the type of operation being conducted; the level of risk; and the level of performance.

The table below gives a breakdown of the key differences between the A2 CofC and the GVC.

A2 CofCGVC
Training RequirementsTheoretical learning;
Theoretical exam;
Self-guided practical flight training.
Theoretical learning;
Theoretical exam;
Operations Manual;
RAE Practical Flight Assessment.
CAA Fees£0Initial application: £243;
Annual renewal: £190.
Permitted SUAA1 Transitional;
A2 Transitional;
C2.
0-20kg SUA (increasing to 25kg in Dec 2020)
Commercial Activity PermittedYesYes
Validity5 Years5 Years
BenefitsNo costs with CAA;
No Operations Manual;
No Flight Assessment;
Reduced separation distances (C2);
+400ft structure inspection permitted.
Available to use now;
EVLOS/BVLOS Bolt-on modules;
Any SUA (0-20kg);
Governance and operating procedures;
Multiple remote pilots permitted.
DisbenefitsLimited to aircraft;
Not available to use until December 31, 2020;
No recognised qualification;
Currently no C2 aircraft;
Single remote pilot only.
Longer training pathway;
Comprehensive syllabus;
Longer exam;
Ongoing CAA costs;
Audit and governance.

A2 CofC v GVC – A Closer Look At The A2 CofC

Here we take a closer look at the A2 CofC.

What Is The A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC)?

The A2 CofC is a remote pilot competency certificate primarily intended to assure safe operations of drones close to uninvolved persons.

Why Do I Need An A2 CofC?

You will need an A2 CofC when you are flying in:

The Open Category

  • Operating in the A2 subcategory;
  • Operating in the A2 Transitional subcategory;
  • Operating in the A1 Transitional subcategory.

What Is The Open Category?

Under the new rules, three categories will define where drones can be flown.

These categories are:

  • Open: Operations that present a low (or no) risk to third parties.
  • Specific: Operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open Category.
  • Certified: Operations that present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation. This category is for high-complexity missions.

The Open Category is then broken down into three subcategories:

  • A1: Fly over people.
  • A2: Fly close to people.
  • A3: Fly far from people.

Each of these subcategories has more specified criteria of where your drone can be operated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRzBufomZfY

What Do The A2, A1 Transitional And A2 Transitional Subcategories Allow Me To Do?

Providing you have an A2 CofC, operators can use a C2-rated drone (up to 4kg) in the A2 subcategory to fly up to 30m horizontally from uninvolved people, or 5 metres in ‘low speed’ mode. This will be a huge benefit for drone pilots.

During the Transitional Period – which has been extended to run from the start of the new legislation to January 1, 2023 – operators who have an A2 CofC can operate a drone with a flying weight of up to 2kg (ie a DJI Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom, or Phantom 4) in the A2 Transitional subcategory and get as close as 50m horizontally from uninvolved people.

During the Transitional Period, operators who have an A2 CofC can operate a drone which has a flying weight of up to 500g in the A1 Transitional subcategory, where the stipulation is that you must not intentionally fly over uninvolved people.

Changes to the new rules mean that operators of the DJI Mavic Mini will have a choice.

The standard weight of this drone is 249g, and as long as its flying weight is under 250g, pilots will be able to fly it in the A1 subcategory, meaning it can be flown over uninvolved people, but not over crowds. This will open up great freedoms for Mavic Mini pilots, and an A2 CofC is not needed for this.

However, if the Mavic Mini’s flying weight exceeds 250g – ie if prop guards or accessories are attached – then the drone will have to be flown in the A1 Transitional subcategory (no intentional flight over uninvolved people), and an A2 CofC is needed.

If the pilot has a Mavic Mini with a flying weight greater than 250g, and does not have an A2 CofC, then the drone will need to be flown in accordance with the A3 subcategory (fly far from people – no uninvolved people present within the area of flight; no flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or residential areas).

Interestingly, there is no specification in the A2 subcategory/A2 Transitional subcategory/A1 Transitional subcategory about operating close to buildings, cars, trains or boats.

However, this does not imply a complete ‘free for all’ as vehicles, vessels and structures will in many cases still have people inside them which need to be protected.

In relation to this, there are two points to take note of:

  • The current ‘endangerment’ regulation in the Air Navigation Order (article 241) still applies, and so it is an offence to ‘endanger’ such property with an unmanned aircraft.
  • The prescribed separation distances from uninvolved persons still apply to persons that are occupants of any vehicle, vessel or structure. So, you still have to apply the relevant limitations for separating from persons, unless you can be certain that they are unoccupied or, in the case of structures, you can be certain that the occupants will be protected because of how the structure has been manufactured.

The overall security and privacy situation must also be considered, as there will be a number of buildings where it would be inadvisable, from a security or privacy standpoint, to be flying close to without first obtaining permission to do so.

What is a C2-rated drone?

As part of the new regulations, a new class system for drones will be introduced. Each make of drone will have its own class rating – from C0 to C4 – which will be based on certain criteria, such as weight, maximum speed and other features based around safety and geo-awareness.

A C2-rated aircraft will have a maximum take-off mass of 4kg, will be built to minimise injury, and have a low-speed mode which limits the speed to 6.7mph, plus other features.

You can operate a C2-rated aircraft in the A2 subcategory of the Open Category – with an A2 CofC.

Currently, no drones meet the current class requirements, so no C0-C4 aircraft exists.

What Is The Transitional Period?

Because no drones currently meet the class requirements, a Transitional Period will run from the start of the new regulations to January 1, 2023, to give manufacturers the chance to bring out C0-C4 drones.

This means you can continue to use your current DJI drones and fly the ones with a flying weight of less than 2kg in the A2 Transitional Subcategory, providing you have an A2 CofC.

It also means that you can fly your current DJI drone which has a flying weight of up to 500g in the A1 Transitional subcategory, providing you have an A2 CofC.

Drones introduced to the market before January 1, 2023, will become known as legacy aircraft. So, after the Transitional Period ends, you will only be able to fly these legacy aircraft in the A3 subcategory (far from people – no uninvolved people present within the area of flight/no flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas), unless you have a valid Operational Authorisation (PfCO). The exception here is the DJI Mavic Mini (under 250g flying weight).

How Do I Get An A2 CofC?

You can obtain an A2 CofC by sitting a one-day Ground School course with Heliguy. As part of the new regulations, Heliguy has received approval from the CAA to become an RAE (Recognised Assessment Entity).

You can sit your A2 CofC online, through Heliguy Blackbox, learning at your own pace. Click here for more information about Heliguy Blackbox.

What Do I Have To Do On The A2 CofC Course?

The A2 CofC course will cover topics such as basic principles of flight, congested area operations, avoiding collision, battery safety, and environmental factors. It will culminate in a theory test. However, there is no practical flight test requirements for the A2 CofC.

What Do I Have To Do In The A2 CofC Theory Test?

The exam – sat in formal conditions – comprises a minimum of 30 multiple-choice questions, specifically covering meteorology; UAS flight performance; and technical and operational mitigations for ground risk.

The exam is a closed-book format (except when questions require reference to charts, or other sources of specific aeronautical information) and the minimum pass mark is 75%.

As a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE), we now have dispensation from the CAA to allow us to invigilate the A2 CofC theory examination remotely using your webcam to maintain virtual exam conditions within Blackbox – if you choose to sit our online drone training.

The examination will last for 75 minutes. Any candidate with a recognised disability or additional needs (e.g. dyslexia or dyspraxia) will be given an additional 15 minutes.

What Happens If I Fail The A2 CofC Exam?

Heliguy will offer free resits for a period of 12 months after you have failed your first exam. Any candidates who need to resit the test a year after failing the first will have to pay a nominal fee and re-do the one-day A2 CofC course, as well as sit the exam.

If, following a failure of a previous attempt, an exam is being repeated, the student must sit a different set of questions to that used previously.

When Do The A2 CofC Courses Start?

Online A2 CofC courses are available to book through Heliguy Blackbox and the Ground School course can be completed now. However, you cannot use your A2 CofC, or fly by the rules of the Open Category, until the new legislation commences in the UK.

To book a place on to one of our A2 CofC courses, click here, or give us a call.

Do I Need To Do Anything Other Than My A2 CofC?

Yes. You must complete a period of practical flight training, either under the guidance of an RAE (ie Heliguy – additional charge applies) or under self-monitored circumstances, conducted within the operating conditions of subcategory A3 but simulating the operating situations associated with the A2 subcategory. You can complete the practical flight training before or after the A2 CofC Ground School.

When conducting the self-guided practical training, you should perform as many flights as you deem necessary to gain a reasonable level of knowledge/skills to operate your drone. Heliguy recommends a flight time of eight hours.

After you have completed your practical flight training, fill out the Candidate Practical Flight Training and Declaration Form and sign it.

In preparation for your practical flight training, you must first complete the following activities:

  • Register your drone and complete the CAA’s Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Service mandatory training and examination, and be in possession of the Flyer ID number associated with that test;
  • Download the Candidate Practical Flight Training and Declaration Form;
  • Familiarise yourself with your drone’s user manual;
  • Download NATS Drone Assist App.

How Long Does An A2 CofC Last For?

Your qualification lasts for five years, after which you’ll have to renew it.

What Happens If I Don’t Get An A2 CofC?

If you haven’t got an A2 CofC, you could find yourself limited in terms of where you can fly your drone.

During the Transitional Period, if you have a ‘legacy’ drone weighing between 250g and 2kg (such as Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom, Phantom Series) and you don’t have an A2 CofC, you will have to operate in the A3 subcategory (far from people), which stipulates that there can be no uninvolved people present within the area of flight, and no flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas.

What Happens If I Have A Valid PfCO?

Holders of a PfCO valid beyond December 31, 2020, can operate under the terms of the permission, until their renewal date. This means you can still fly your ‘legacy’ aircraft, such as your DJI drones, under your Standard Permissions.

When you renew after the new legislation begins, the PfCO will become known as an Operational Authorisation, but you will be granted the same Standard Permissions as before.

The Heliguy PfCO course has now ended, but candidates can instead sit a GVC course, which will teach the current and new regulations. Click here for more details.

A2 CofC v GVC – A Closer Look At The GVC

Here we take a closer look at the GVC.

What Is The 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 GVC is acceptable for all VLOS operations conducted under a published STS (Standard Scenario) or PDRA (Pre-Defined Risk Assessment) and, in most circumstances, it will be considered an acceptable level of remote pilot competency within an operational risk assessment for any other VLOS operation.

What Is The Specific Category?

Under the new rules, three categories will define where drones can be flown.

These categories are:

  • Open: Operations that present a low (or no) risk to third parties.
  • Specific: Operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open Category.
  • Certified: Operations that present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation. This category is for high-complexity missions.

Therefore, the simplest description of a Specific Category operation is: ‘a drone operation that cannot be done within the Open Category, but is not complicated enough for the Certified 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.

What Is An Operational Authorisation?

The Operational Authorisation – to replace the term PfCO – 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.

PDRAs are still currently under development and will be published in a revised version of CAP722, which is planned to be released in May 2020. Current holders of a PfCO will be pleased to hear that the current provisions of a Standard Permission will be converted into a PDRA.

I Want To Do A GVC Course. What Do I Have To Do?

The GVC course involves a two-day Ground School with Heliguy. As part of the new regulations, Heliguy has received approval from the CAA to become an RAE (Recognised Assessment Entity).

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

You can sit your GVC online, through Heliguy Blackbox, learning at your own pace. Click here for more information about Heliguy Blackbox.

What Do I Have To Do On The GVC Course?

The GVC course syllabus will cover topics such as airlaw/responsibilities, UAS airspace operating principles, airmanship/aviation safety, meteorology, and navigation/charts, among other things.

The GVC course will culminate in a theory test. As a Recognised Assessment Entity (RAE), we now have dispensation from the CAA to allow us to invigilate the GVC theory examination remotely using your webcam to maintain virtual exam conditions within Blackbox – if you choose to sit our online drone training.

Candidates will also be required to complete a practical flight test, which will be taken on a separate date following successful completion of the course.

Candidates with a current aviation qualification are exempt from taking the two-day course and theory test. But they must pass the practical flight test. Heliguy recommends that all candidates sit the two-day course/theory test, no matter their previous qualifications.

What Do I Have To Do In The GVC Theory Exam?

The exam – sat in formal conditions – will comprise a minimum of 40 questions. There will be a minimum of five questions in each of the following subject areas:

  • Air law/responsibilities;
  • UAS airspace operating principles;
  • Airmanship and aviation safety.

The exam questions may be in the following formats:

  • Multiple-choice questions – a choice of no less than 4 answers;
  • Long answer questions;
  • A mixture of both multiple-choice and long answer questions.

The exam will be a closed-book format (except when questions require reference to charts, or other sources of specific aeronautical information) and the minimum overall pass mark is 75%.

The duration of the examination can be determined by the RAE and is subject to acceptance by the CAA. Any candidate with a recognised disability or additional needs (e.g. dyslexia or dyspraxia) will be granted an extra 10% of the allocated assessment time to complete the examination.

What Do I Have To Do In The GVC Practical Flight Test?

The GVC practical flying test is designed to provide assurance that the remote pilot being examined can safely undertake a wide range of VLOS operations within the Specific Category, including those conducted under a published STS or PDRA, whilst adhering to a set of procedures contained within an operations manual.

The practical flying test will be conducted outdoors.

Candidates must sufficiently show competence in a range of pre-flight actions, in-flight procedures, and post-flight actions.

What Happens If I Fail The GVC Exam/Flight Assessment?

Heliuguy will offer free resits for a period of 12 months after you have failed your first exam. Any candidates who need to resit the test/flight assessment a year after failing the first will have to pay a nominal fee and re-do the GVC course, as well as sit the exam/flight assessment.

If, following a failure of a previous attempt, a theory exam is being repeated, the student must sit a different set of questions to that used previously.

When Do The GVC Courses Start?

The GVC courses are available to book and can be started now on Heliguy Blackbox. To book a place on to our GVC course, click here or give us a call.

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

Do I Need To Do Anything Other Than My GVC?

Prior to taking the GVC course and flight test, you will be required to have done the following:

  • Completed the CAA’s Drone and Model Aircraft online training course for basic remote pilot competency;
  • Completed the CAA’s online competency test and be in possession of the Flyer ID number associated with that test.

Are There Bolt-on Modules For The GVC?

Yes, there are. The GVC can be augmented by a number of additional modules. Currently, one additional module has been developed. This is the:

GVC Module 1: Covers operations that involve an unmanned aircraft being flown beyond the VLOS of the remote pilot but make use of visual observers for the purpose of avoiding collisions (i.e. operations that are frequently referred to as Extended VLOS (EVLOS).

These bolt-on modules will allow you to complete more complex missions with your drone, similar to what is now granted through an OSC (Operating Safety Case).

Heliguy will be releasing more information on these bolt-on modules in due course.

How Long Does My GVC Last For?

The GVC, along with any additional modules that are attached to it, is valid for a period of five years from the date that the examination was taken.

What Happens If I Have A Valid PfCO?

If you hold a PfCO, have done a PfCO course or you are currently doing a PfCO Drone course you will not automatically get a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC).

However, you will be grandfathered the permissions you currently hold with your PfCO and this will be converted over to an Operational Authorisation when the new rules begin.

Heliguy’s PfCO course is no longer available, but it has been replaced by the GVC course, which is available now.

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

A2 CofC v GVC – Summary

In the main, the A2 CofC and the GVC offer different things to different drone pilots. Which type of drone training you decide to go for depends on your aircraft and what you want to use it for.

But what is certain is that if you want to get the most from your drone after the new regulations begin, then holding an A2 CofC and/or a GVC is essential.

If you decide that you want both, then you can complete a three-day training block with Heliguy, doing the A2 CofC on one day and the GVC on the other two days.

The exam would include GVC and A2 CofC questions in one sitting and feature 60 questions.

The new rules might seem complex, but they have a great capacity to give drone users more flexibility and freedom with their aircraft.

If you would like to discuss anything in this blog or find out more about how Heliguy can help you, contact our expert training team by email or phone.

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