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What are the new drone laws?

WELCOME to 2021 which will inevitably see much change thanks to the "B" & "C" words :-/ Did you know that the laws around drone use also changed whilst we were being treated to an incredible drone show over London as Big Ben struck Midnight? Ironically these are EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) rules that are designed to simplify drone use across borders - just as we are leaving the EU! The new rules are far from simple and are very confusing!

Previously there were 3 basic categories of drone pilots: Hobbyists who basically had to follow a simple drone code (which has evolved into pages and pages of text) keep away from congested areas and not perform commercial operations.

PfCO holders such as ourselves were allowed commercial flights in congested areas holders and OSC holders that allowed special extra permissions.

All had suitable training and mitigations relevant to the operation. In addition a simple registration scheme by the CAA came into affect in 2020 that was often confused with having a drone "licence" such as PfCO (especially by rogue pilots funny enough!)

This system has now been replaced by a matrix depending on the type of drone, the pilots qualification and where the drone will be flown. Put simply there are 3 categories:

  • Open for low risk flights

  • Specific for higher risk flights

  • Certified for more complex operations

Open Category

Sub Category

A1 -(OVER PEOPLE) Drones <250g /toys can be flown over people at a min distance of 50 metres and no further than 120m from pilot (not groups or crowds ie town centres) If a camera is fitted then it must be registered with the CAA (DMARES scheme)

A2 - (CLOSE TO PEOPLE) Drones 250g-4kg must be kept 30m from people and you must have completed and passed an A2 CofC course from an organisation such as UAVHUB. In future these distances could be reduced to 5m with new classified drones (see below)

A3- (Away from people) In this sub category drones must be kept 150m from residential, recreational (inc parks/beaches) or built up areas

Specific category: (higher risk flights than in the open category)

In this category pilots must have an operational authorisation from the CAA which will usually take the form of a GVC qualification. Existing PfCO holders such as ourselves also fit into this category.

Certified category:

Much more complex operations such as drone delivery services and drone taxis (watch this space!). These regulations are similar to airlines.

In addition to these categories, all drones will now fit into a new classification system with drones being classed as C0-C4 based on weight, max speed and safety systems. The classification will determine which category they will fall into. Until Jan 2023 all existing drones will be given temporary categories before default to A3 status

With certain exemptions all drones must not be flown higher than 120m/400ft from the earth, be registered, be insured, must not be flown in the vicinity of an airfield, restricted airspace or their exclusion zones.

The Air Navigation order 2016 covers the laws in much more detail. See CAP 722

At Pesky Seagull Aerial Photography & Video we have a valid PfCO (soon to default to Operational Authorisation) that allows us to continue flying our Inspire 2 professional drone for commercial flights in restricted areas in the Specific category. However

With so many new pilots receiving drones such as a Mini 2 or Mavic 2 over the Christmas period at a time when laws are changing, often being less restrictive, we ask what could possibly go wrong?! When will a major incident or court case force the rues to change....again?!

At Pesky Seagull Aerial photography & Video we currently operate professional Inspire 2 drones under our PfCO in the specific category but are looking for an addition (or 2) to the fleet as a back up and to take advantage of the new legislation to give us the best of both worlds. Although the mini 2 for instance defiantly has advantages and would be useful for none professional applications, it falls far short of our Inspire 2. The Parrot Afani is defiantly the best "legacy" drone out there but then we may wait for the Mavic 3 if and when it gets released hopefully being C rated...

2021 will defiantly be interesting and no doubt drones will make the headlines again for the wrong reasons, however if you have a project, event or other use for our professional drone services please contact us here or visit us at one of our offices once Boris allows us of course! We can be found In Tamworth, Lichfield or at Birmingham Airport.

For a more comprehensive guide please visit the drone code. Details of all the regulations applicable to UAS including the Air Navigation order 2016 can be found in CAP 722.

Tamworth town centre taken early 2020

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