Understanding EASA Drone Regulations

Categories and Classes – Part 2

EASA regulations have been developed to allow free circulation of drones within Europe and apply clear and comprehensive safety standards to the field of unmanned aerial systems.

They become applicable in the UK on July 1st 2020.  This blog series looks at separate aspects of the upcoming changes.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the new categories for drone operation and classes of drone.

There will be three categories of drone operation and they relate to the level of risk involved in carrying out the operation rather than to whether the work is being carried out commercially.

  1. Open
  2. Specific
  3. Certified

Open Category

This category deals with operations where risks are so low as to require no authorisation by a proper authority or declaration by the pilot before the flight takes place. There are three subcategories within this which give drone pilots the permission to perform certain types of flight in the Open Category

  • A1 (fly over people). This applies to low risk drones because of their weight being less than 250g, their construction or because they are a toy (designed for use in play by children under 14).  However, flights over open-air assemblies are not permitted.
  • A2 (fly close to people).  This includes aircraft with a mass of 4kg or less and meeting certain product standards. These can fly to a minimum horizontal distance of 30m from uninvolved people or to a distance of 5 metres where low speed mode is selected and where the pilot has completed an additional competency exam.
  • A3 (fly far from people).  This will apply to unmanned aircraft with the intent of making sure that they only fly in areas that are clear of uninvolved people and not in what is called congested areas in today’s terminology.

Specific Category

This category deals with operations where the risks involved are considered such that authorisation from a competent authority is required before the operation can take place.  This would take into account suitable risk assessment procedures. There may be exceptions to this where an operator holds a ‘light UAS Operator Certificate’ (LUC).  The LUC will give certain operators permission to authorise their own operations.  The thinking is that the LUC opportunities may be quite limited in the early days but offer some benefit to those operators with large fleets and manufacturers during development and testing.

While details are not currently available, it is likely that for UK UAS Operators, the process of obtaining the required operational authorisation is likely to be very similar to the current PfCO process.

A set of ‘standard scenarios’ are also currently in development (due for publication in October 2019).  These are a set of fixed conditions for certain operations that would mean that, once a pilot has been approved for these scenarios, they would no longer be required to seek authorisation on each occasion.  They would simply declare their intent to operate.

Certified Category

This is the most heavily monitored category where the risk level of operations is thought to be such that it is necessary to have a certified UAS, licensed remote pilot and competent authority approval to ensure safety levels.

Groundbreaking Legislation – Drone Classes

This regulatory framework breaks new ground by combining product and aviation legislation.

Small drones will be identified by the already recognised CE mark, divided into five classes (C0 to C4).   The do’s and don’ts of each class will be provided as part of the product packaging. The idea is that when someone buys a drone, they will know where they can operate it and what level of competence is required according to the drone class.

The following table details at high level for the ‘Open Category’ at this time, the drone class divisions although each class will have more detailed description that will be made available in due course. It is expected that additional CE classes will address UAVs in the other Categories of ‘Specific’ and ‘Certified’ at a later point.

Available to fly in Criteria
C0 All subcategories
  • Less than 250g maximum take off mass
  • Max speed 19 m/s (42.5mph)
  • Unable to fly more than 400ft from the controller
C1 All subcategories
  • Less than 900g maximum take off mass
  • Would transmit less than 80 joules of energy should it collide with a human head
  • Designed and constructed to minimise injury
  • Max speed 19 m/s (42.5mph)
C2 A2 or A3
  • Less than 4kg maximum take off mass
  • Designed and constructed to minimise injury
  • Features a low speed mode to limit speed to 3 m/s (6.7mph)
C3 A3
  • Less than 25kg maximum take off mass
  • Possess automatic control models
  • Featuring geo-awareness systems
C4 A3
  • Less than 25kg maximum take off mass
  • Unmanned aircraft that don’t possess any automation features other than for basic flight stabilisation (such as more traditional model aircraft)

Obviously it will take time for manufacturers to get into step with these requirements and there will be a great deal of legacy equipment in operation in the intervening period.  Therefore, there are some transitional arrangements in place.  Where aircraft don’t comply with C0 to C4, they will have indefinite permission to operation in A3 or A1 (when weighing less than 250g).

1st July 2022 sees the deadline for all new UAV’s introduced for sale in Europe to comply and be marked with the relevant CE Class Number.