CAA Drone Registration Count Down

In 2018, the Government decided that there was a need for a drone registration scheme to be put in place.  As companion to this, a competency test pass would also be required in order to legally fly a drone in the UK.

These requirements apply to all drone users, including leisure flyers and run in addition to the procedure that pilots must follow in order to obtain CAA Permission for Commercial Operation.

The CAA launched an initial consultation process to gather ideas and opinions from all interested parties and this week has seen a second consultation period initiated.  The aim of this second round of opinion gathering is to present drone pilots with the proposed solution and charges, information on how this conclusion has been arrive at and to seek a consensus of opinion on whether this is acceptable.

This article looks to present the information about the registration system as we currently understand it.  We are not going to enter into debate on here as to whether this is the right solution although fully encourage all pilots to complete the short consultation form in order to make their opinions heard.

On the fact of it, the registration process and competency testing are to be two separate processes resulting in the allocation of two separate registration numbers.  The competency test and craft registration will need to be completed by all pilots and operators of drones or model aircraft weighing between 250g and 20kg.

Key Dates

  • July 2019 – the Registration Scheme charges will be finalised by the CAA
  • September 2019 – The CAA will launch a communications campaign to inform the public of the new registration and competency requirements
  • October 1st 2019 – Registration opens to the public.  Until this point, the scheme will be funded by the UK tax payer. Once open the scheme costs must be recovered under the principle of ‘user pays’.
  • November 29th 2019 – Registration becomes mandatory with penalties for non-compliance being levied of up to £1000.

Drone Operators and Remote Pilots

There is a distinction made in the consultation document between Report Pilots, who fly drones or model aircraft, and Drone Operators, who are responsible for the drone and managing its use.  A Remote Pilot which flies drones but doesn’t own one themselves is exempt from the registration process.

There is no minimum age for a Remote Pilot however, a Drone Operator must be 18 or over which presumably will lead to some purchasing restrictions in store and online and the willingness of a parent to follow the Drone Operator registration process on the behalf of their child if they already are a keen leisure flyer.

However, leaving the under 18s aside, Remote Pilots who are not also Drone Operators will be in a minority with 85% of pilots predicted to be in both categories.

Competency Test

This is the simpler and less contentious of the two processes. Although it was initially hoped that Commercial Pilots who have already passed rigorous exams and scrutiny through a registered NQE would be exempt from this part of the new legislation, that is not going to be the case.

Anyone who flies a drone or model aircraft will be required to visit the CAA website, read the rules, pass a test and then register their details in order to receive a flyer number.  This flyer number will allow them to legally fly a drone / aircraft for a period of three years, after which point (although it is not explicitly stated) they will need to renew.

There will be no charge for the test, registration or generation of the flyer number. However, it’s important to remember that if you own the drone yourself then you will also be required to register as a Drone Operator.

Registering as a Drone Operator

Here is undoubtedly the more contentious side of the process and the area focused on by the consultation.

The process as currently defined is that, if you are responsible for the use of a drone or model aircraft, you will need to visit the CAA website, pay an £16.50 annual fee, complete the registration form with your details and you will then receive your Registration Number which you must then label your craft with.  There were some initial fears that a separate fee might be levied per craft but it is a single registration fee under which multiple craft can be registered – a relief to operators who run extensive fleets or even leisure flyers who like to use a variety of UAVs as part of their hobby.

The included infographic does get a little confusing as to the process required if you both operate and pilot a craft as will be the case for the majority.  It presents the Registration and Competency processes as separate strands but there is some text in the centre of the two strands that states

‘You only need a single registration if you both fly and are responsible for a drone or model aircraft’.

A sensible interpretation of this would be, rather than choosing one of the two processes, that there will be a third option which combines the two to save duplication when it comes to entering details, although it isn’t clear from the information that we currently have available whether you would still receive a separate Registration and Flyer number.

Much of the consultation document deals with the level of Registration Charge being applied.  The scheme and attendant charge has been designed to be self-funding based on an initial registration take up of 170,000 over the first 18 months.   Here is where the caveats regarding user cost come into play as there is simply no firm data on the size of the drone operator community outside of those who currently hold the CAA PfCO. If the take up is significantly smaller, then charges may rise and conversely, if the CAA receive in excess of the amount needed to maintain and improve the system (they state that it isn’t their aim to make a profit from the Registration process) then they may reduce costs over the coming years.  The current estimates rely on extrapolating data from similar registration schemes in the USA and Ireland and adjusting them based on population figures.  Only time will tell if this has provided an accurate basis for the cost calculation although the CAA are certainly welcoming additional information on pilot numbers through the consultation process.

What do you Get for your Money?

This will be an all-digital system requiring online registration although staff will be allocated to provide support and problem solving where required.   As well as generating your Registration number and providing facility to take the Competency Test, the system is currently outlined to…

  • Offer a knowledge base to support pilots including rules and guidance to pass the test and fly safely
  • Check my Registration Service for users and authorities to check a pilot’s registered status
  • Online Renewal Process
  • Facility to update your Registration
  • A service to allow operators to register multiple drones under a single operator number

This iteration of the service is billed as MVP (Minimal Viable Product) with future minor and major upgrades planned based on take up.  One of these, buried in the list of items such as a lost my drone service, and renewal invitations is the incorporation of the existing UAS Commercial Service which would only seem sensible rather than creating duplicates of systems and data for Commercial Operators.

As stated, this article isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of the proposed scheme. We urge every pilot and operator who will be affected to voice their opinions through the consultation process and Drone Safe Register will continue to work on behalf of our members with the relevant authorities to secure the brightest possible future for our fledgling industry.

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