Can DJI Drones Be Retrospectively CE Class Marked?
Current DJI drones could receive retrospective CE class markings to enable pilots to enjoy greater freedoms under new European drone laws.
The global UAS manufacturer has hinted at the possibility of updating its existing products to make them compliant with the soon-to-be-introduced CE class identification system.
If this happens, it would open up more opportunities for pilots under the new rules; for instance, allowing them to fly closer to people without needing a standard permission.
New CE Markings For Drones
Under the rules – to start in Europe and the UK on December 31, 2020 – pilots of drones with these new CE class markings (C0-C4) will benefit from less stringent operational requirements, such as reduced separation distances from uninvolved people.
This is especially true for people flying in the new Open Category.
However, because the standards for these CE class markings have not yet been set, there are currently no drones on the market which have these ratings.
Therefore, a Transitional Period will run from the start of the new laws until the end of December 31, 2022, to give manufacturers the chance to develop aircraft in accordance with the new standards.
Importantly, this means that current drones, without a CE class identification, can still be flown – subject to some operational limitations.
In the Open Category, these include:
|Subcategory||Operating Area||Mass/KE/Speed||Operating Date Limitations||Min Age (Solo Flight)||Registration||Competency|
|A1 Transitional||No intentional flight over uninvolved people||<500g flying weight, such as DJI Spark.||Not after December 31, 2022||UK: 13|
EU: 16 (Unless reduced in State)
|A2 Transitional||No closer than 50m horizontally from uninvolved people||<2kg flying weight, such as Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom, and Phantom 4 Pro V2.0||Not after December 31, 2022||UK: 13|
EU: 16 (Unless reduced in State)
|Yes||• User Manual|
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
• Self-practical training
• A2 CofC
|A3 Transitional||No uninvolved people present within the area of flight|
No flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.
|>2kg to <25kg of flying weight, such as Inspire 2, M200 Series, M300 RTK, M600 Pro. (However, an Operational Authorisation will likely be used for these aircraft to fly in Specific Category).|
Also applies to A1/A2 Transitional where operator does not have an A2 CofC.
|Not after December, 31, 2022||UK: 13|
EU: 16 (Unless reduced in State)
|Yes||• User manual|
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
As things stand, non-CE-class-marked drones will become ‘legacy’ aircraft at the end of the Transitional Period.
While this will not make current aircraft obsolete, it will restrict the majority of them to the A3 subcategory of the Open Category, come January 1, 2023.
Or to put it another way, flights conducted in the Open Category with non-CE class labelled drones can only be conducted far from people.
To try to stop the majority of its current drones being restricted to the A3 subcategory come January 1, 2023, and to enable pilots to enjoy greater flight freedoms under the new laws, DJI has outlined a strategy to retrospectively CE mark its existing aircraft.
What Has DJI Said?
In a recent blog article, DJI set out its vision to retroactively mark its drones.
The manufacturer stated: “Although current drones on the market cannot simply be retroactively marked, they can go through a process that will verify they are compliant with the new requirements and will transform it legally to a ‘new’ product.
“We are assessing this possibility for existing products.”
DJI added that it is currently working with industry bodies, regulators and authorities to help shape the European standards which the CE class markings are based on, and the subsequent compliance process for this regulation.
DJI stated: “Once the standards have been confirmed by the regulatory authorities and notified bodies are in place, we will work on assuring compliance for relevant products accordingly and publish a list on our website that shows which products will be included in retroactive CE class identification labelling.”
Addressing how this could be done, DJI said: “For confirmed products, this will require a hardware and/or firmware upgrade (still to be decided!) which will have to be performed by DJI or certain authorised dealers.
“Customers may do this upgrade themselves but the manufacturer needs to set up a controlled process with a verification through a notified body (still to be decided!).”
How Would This Affect Me?
If DJI can bring in the retrospective markings, it will be a big plus for drone users, especially pilots flying in the Open Category.
Take the Mavic 2 Pro, for example.
Currently, it is not a CE-class marked aircraft, so as it stands, the drone will fall into one of two Open subcategories as of December, 31, 2020.
A2 Transitional – Fly Close To People: Fly up to 50m horizontally from uninvolved people. However, pilots need an A2 CofC for this. From January 1, 2023, after the Transitional Period ends, this aircraft would need to be flown in the A3 subcategory (fly far from people).
A3 Transitional – Fly Far From People: If you DO NOT hold an A2 CofC, you will be bound by stricter rules, adhering to the A3 subcategory of the Open Category. These are: No uninvolved people present within the area of flight; no flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.
However, if the Mavic 2 Pro can obtain retrospective CE class identification, things would change significantly.
Under the new rules, the Mavic 2 Pro would likely receive a C2 marking. For pilots with an A2 CofC, this would mean:
- Fly up to 30m horizontally of uninvolved people, or up to 5m in ‘low-speed mode’
- This freedom would not expire at end of Transitional Period
There could even be a chance that a drone like the Mavic 2 Pro could achieve C1 status – subject to some tweaks – giving pilots even more freedom.
So, there are clear benefits for DJI to push ahead with retrospective markings.
What Has The CAA Said About Retrospective Drone Markings?
And it appears that the CAA has left the door open for this to happen.
In CAP 1789, the CAA states: “In order to be given a particular Class marking, the aircraft must have been designed and manufactured to the relevant standards of that class marking.
“The only way you can get an aircraft with a CE class marking is to buy one that has this marking.”
This would appear to suggest that if DJI can make existing drones compliant with the new Class system, then there’s every chance that retrospective marking can proceed.
And as we know, DJI is working with the relevant authorities to shape this criteria; perhaps a telling clue of what the future holds.
But, the CAA does say that existing drones can’t just become Class marked by their weight alone; so in this sense, CE Class markings do not work retrospectively.
As CAP 1789 states: ‘A current 3kg aircraft, for example, will never become a C2 model; it will only ever be a legacy unmanned aircraft that weighs 3kg.”.
Heliguy approached the press office at EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) for a comment on retrospective class marking, but did not receive a reply.
A list of FAQs about the new drone laws can be found on the EASA website.
Does My Drone Need To Be CE Classed To Operate Commercially?
One of the major changes under the new rules is the removal of the terms ‘commercial’ and ‘non-commercial’.
Or to put it another way, you will not necessarily need a PfCO (to be replaced by an Operational Authorisation) if you want to conduct a flight for money-making purposes.
This is because certain ‘commercial’ flights can be conducted within the criteria of the Open Category.
In fact, the new rules will open up greater possibilities for ‘commercial’ operations; as operators can perform missions in the Open Category without needing a standard permission.
This will be ideal for jobs such as wind-turbine inspections and real-estate photography.
However, for pilots wanting/needing to fly outside the operational limitations of the Open Category, a GVC will be required to apply for an Operational Authorisation to operate in the Specific Category.
Therefore, for the time being, a drone without a CE class marking can be used for commercial operations, as long as it is flown in accordance with the laws.
But, drones without a CE class marking which are being flown in the Open Category will have to be flown in the A3 subcategory at the end of the Transition Period.
Harmonising Euorpean-wide Drone Programmes
One of the key aspects of the new drone laws is to create standardised rules across the 27 EU Member States as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK.
In this respect, they open new possibilities for DJI customers considering expansion plans across the Continent.
It means that businesses can scale their local operations to other countries in similar scenarios without having to necessarily undergo new registration processes, training and multiple authorisations.
For instance, beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) routine flights will become the norm in standard scenarios, whereas before they were the exception.
DJI says it is committed to helping drone programmes scale and expand businesses beyond borders.
CE Class Markings v CE Markings
This article has focused on the new CE Class Markings for drones.
To clarify, these markings are not currently on any drone.
Furthermore, they are not to be confused with the more common administrative CE markings, which indicate that a product conforms with health, safety, and environmental protection standards within the European Economic Area.
So, once the new rules begin, drones will need to have the existing CE marking requirements, while manufacturers will no doubt rush to create drones which are compliant with the new CE class markings – based on different mandatory safety requirements.
For the record, DJI products are already CE-compliant, in the administrative sense.
DJI states: “Our products tick all the boxes in terms of compliance, including relevant or applicable EU CE directives, meaning that they will not require extensive interventions such as product modifications.
“DJI is currently working with industry bodies, regulators and authorities, to help shape the European standards the CE marking is based on and the compliance process for this regulation.”
DJI Ecosystem Already Safe
One of the key takeaways from this article is that, come January 1, 2021, DJI products can still be flown.
And as a market leader, DJI has driven innovation to set high standards designed to meet EASA’s ambition of air safety.
For instance, numerous DJI drones include the following features:
- Remote Identification: Broadcast location, altitude speed, direction of the drone, location of pilot, and drone ID number by special receivers developed for safety and security authorities.
- AirSense (ABS-B Receiver): Allows drone pilots to spot other aircraft nearby.
- Geofencing: Restricts DJI drones from flying near sensitive locations, such as airports, for pilots without the necessary permits or authorisations.
- Obstacle Avoidance and Smart Return To Home: Automatically senses and avoids obstacles, and returns to take-off point before batteries are exhausted.
- Redundant Systems (M300 RTK): The M300 RTK features an extra IMU barometer and compass. They will come online if the primary unit fails. It also has dual battery configuration so if one battery dies, the other battery can still safely power the drone to land safely.
- Omnidirectional Collision Avoidance (M300 RTK): Six direction dual visual and dual time-of-flight sensors enables the drone to have omnidirectional collision avoidance feature to better sense and avoid obstacles.
CE Class Markings – Conclusion
Innovators, trailblazers, industry leaders: if there are any words to describe DJI, then this trio certainly fit the bill.
And, perhaps, true to form, DJI may well be leading the way again, this time paving the way for retrospective drone marking under new drone laws.
A breakthrough in this department would certainly be beneficial for the drone manufacturer and operators, alike.
The fact that DJI is playing a key role in talks on this subject is telling, and their standing in the drone industry will no doubt carry substantial sway.
Certainly DJI’s recent rhetoric indicates that retrospective drone marking is a serious possibility.
After all, DJI’s product eco-system has the safety record and sophisticated features to comply with the requirements of the new class criteria.
As a trusted DJI partner, Heliguy believes retrospective drone marking would be beneficial – as long as each drone meets the requirements – and will do what we can to support this and shape any necessary standards.