EU drone law in layman’s terms. A beginners guide.

In case you haven’t noticed. Since 01/01/2021 there is a new drone law into effect in Europe. It was postponed by half a year due to COVID-19 (cringe). But now, without further ado, the EU kicked of the new drone regulations. However, are you confused? So was I at the beginning.

FYI : usefull links, hints and tips at the bottem of the article!

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

The category’s

As you might have noticed, the drone operations are divided into a couple of a category’s. Every category has its own limitations and regulations.

Source : https://euka.flandersmake.be/

General

For starters, the ‘open’ category is for most flights. If you are a photographer or hobbyist, this will probably be the only category you’ll need. Depending on the flights you do off course. For these types of flights, you don’t need authorisation or declaration before starting your flight by the member state.

It also allows you to fly up to 120 meters (or 400 feet) AGL (above ground level). Previously, the maximum height varied from country to country. Now, one ceiling level has been chosen, however, every member state (or every country in the EU) can make or choose different zones with restrictions. Think about large city’s or airports. To know the zones of your country, check the website of the local flight authority. This should be easy to find due to the EU regulations (check the links bellow to get started).

A “nice to know” is that you can never fly over an assembly of people (see further down the article.

Also note that the dropping or spraying of goods is reserved for the specific category! So that’s a no-go on delivering pizza’s with your DJI Phantom in the open category.

Lastly, you can fly with a POV drone in the open category. However, there has to be an observer next to you at all times. This to ensure the safety of yourself and others. This observer needs to see the drone at all times. This means you can’t take the drone behind buildings or a row of trees.

Bellow you’ll find a “short” overview on the open category.

Open category

To make things in the open category a little bit difficult, the EU divided the open category in three subsections :

· Open A1 : Possibility to fly over people

· Open A2 : Fly close to people

· Open A3 : Away from people

Depending on the category and the type of drone you’re flying in, you’ll need a licence. Certain licences can only be obtained starting at a certain age. In EU regulations, there has been noted that an age between 12 and 16 is needed to able to participate in these exams. Every member state can choose an age between these two. So check the flight authority in your country to see which age has been set in your country (again, in the links bellow).

In these three subsections, there is also a sub restriction of what kind of drone you can fly. If you want to know which drone you can fly in what subcategory, you only need to check the class stamp on the drone you want to buy. One problem though, there are no drones with class available to this day. Drone companies have not yet caught up I’m afraid.

This doesn’t mean you need to throw away your current drone and wait for the new ones to arrive. Transitional measures have been taken for current drones. If you want more info on this, drop a comment bellow. Honestly, if you do not have a drone yet, don’t buy one and wait for the drone stamps to arrive. Simple as that.

Drone classes

The classes are C0 to C4. The stamp is mostly due to the weight of the drone. A short overview:

· C0 : MTOM < 250gr (also privately built)

· C1 : MTOM < 900gr

· C2 : MTOM < 4kg

· C3 : MTOM < 25kg

· C4 : MTOM < 25kg (privately built and model aircrafts)

For those who do not know what MTOM stands for : Maximum Take Of Mass.

This mass is put together by all the accessories you can mount on your drone. This includes props, prop guards, camera’s, landing gear and so forth. This means that if your mount can carry a 3,5kg camera, this has to be taken into account into calculating the MTOM. Even if you mount a 1kg camera, the 3,5kg has to be used when making you calculation. This may seem contra-intuitive, however, it is required according to the EU legislation!

Open category’s and drone class together

Now that we know both the open category’s and the drone classes, we can throw these together to see what drones we can operate in what open class :

In the category open A1 you can fly these drones:

· C0

· C1

In the category open A2 you can fly

· C2

In the category open A3 you can fly every kind of drone or model plane, as long as it’s MTOM is less than 25kg.

Operational limits

It almost speaks for itself that every subcategory (Open A1, 2 and 3) has it’s operational limits. In this section we will see the operational limits in every subcategory.

Operational restrictions in Open A1 with a C0 drone, includes that you may fly over uninvolved people, however, it is advised not to and steer away in case this happens. You cannot fly over an assembly of people at any time, in every subcategory, with every drone.

Uninvolved people are people who do not know you are flying and have not received a briefing about you flight. Involved people have to receive a briefing about the operation you are doing AND have to give (preferably written) consent to fly over/near them and have to explicitly consent that they have received a briefing from the pilot or organisation.

An assembly of people cannot be measured in people per m2. An assembly of people are people who cannot run to safety if anything happens. Think about places where people are packed together such as concerts, events…

Operational restrictions in Open A1 with a C1 drone, includes that you may NOT fly over uninvolved people. You cannot fly over an assembly of people at any time, in every subcategory, with every drone.

Operational restrictions in Open A2 with a C2 drone, includes that you have to keep a distance of 30m from uninvolved people. If your drone has a slow mode (no more than 10km/h), you can fly as close as 5m to uninvolved people.

Next to that, there is a 1:1 rule (or one to one rule — additional rule when flying close to uninvolved people). If you are flying at a height of 40m, youre vertical distance from people is also 40m. If you’re flying at a height of 50m, your vertical distance from people is also 50m. The absolute maximum height is, off course, 120m (400ft). If your drone should drop from the sky in mid-flight, the drone should not be able to reach these uninvolved people.

Operational restrictions in Open A3 with a C3/C4 drone, includes that you fly away from people and outside urban, commercial or industrial areas. So flying in the middle of a field. That or in the middle of nowhere.

Distance from people includes:

· 30m from people

· 1:1 rule

· two second rule

The two second rule states you should keep the distance from people which your drone can fly at top speed during two seconds. This states that if your drone has a top speed of 20m/s, you should keep a distance of 40m/s from people.

You do not get to choose between these rules. You always need to use the most restrictive one.

Operator registration

Yes, as a drone enthusiast and as a drone service provider, you have to register with your member state authority.

This means, whenever you fly a drone more then 249gr you have to register. Only if your drone is marked as a toy (you should find this info in the user’s manual) or your drone weighs less then 250gr and has no camera, you do not have to register.

Drone operator competence level and minimum age

As mentioned before, you can’t just take a drone and fly at hearts content. Depending on the subclass and the type of drone you are flying with, you’ll have to reach a certain level of training. Next to the competence level, you may need to have a certain age.

When flying in Open A1 with a C0 drone, you’ll need no actual expensive training at all. Perfect for children and people flying a drone for the first time. However:

  • If you’ve privately build your drone AND it weighs less then 250gr, you won’t need any training whatsoever. There isn’t any age requirement.
  • If you’ve bought a drone AND it weighs less then 250gr, you’ll need to have red the user’s manual. Yes, the booklet you get in the box when buying a drone. And please, do read it. You need to know the operational limits of your drone. This includes wind resistance, the speed of your drone, distance it can fly, hints and tips…

For the age requirements after buying your drone in the C0 drone class, check your local flight authority (see link at bottom of article). This is where the member state can choose between the age of 12 and 16.

When flying in Open A1 with a C1 drone, you need to do a couple of things. For starters, you need to have read the user’s manual and you have to complete an online training. This online training should be provided by the member state. In some member states this training is free of charge. Lastly you’ll need to have passed an online theoretical exam following the online training.

As for the age requirements, check with the flight authority of your country. This is the earlier mentioned choice between the age of 12 and 16.

When flying in Open A2 with a C2 drone, you’ll need to have the same requirements as in the Open A1 subclass with a few additions. These include a self practical training. This means you have to fly the drone yourself as practice. Important note, you can declare yourself ready for flying a drone.

When practicing with your drone, do so in an Open A3 environment and keep a log of your flights. If you want to know what to keep track of in this log, check bellow. I highly recommend this. If for some reason the member state conducts a survey, you can show this to uphold the decision on declaring yourself able to fly a drone.

Lastly, you’ll have to pass an exam at the CAA. This means you have to follow a course in a drone school, recognized by the member state. Most of these schools also provide lessons on flying the drone. This way you’ll get a log from the school declaring that you have practiced and are capable of flying a drone.

As for the age requirements, check with the flight authority of your country. This is the earlier mentioned choice between the age of 12 and 16.

Lastly, when flying in Open A3 with a C3 or C4 drone, you have the same requirements as flying in Open A1 and with a C1 drone. Scroll a bit to the North to find out the requirements.

As for the age requirements, check with the flight authority of your country. This is the earlier mentioned choice between the age of 12 and 16.

To put all of the above together, you get the table underneath :

Source : https://www.easa.europa.eu/faq/116452

Specific and certified

If you want more info on these two category’s, drop a comment below. If there are enough people interested, I’ll write one on these to. Most of the people reading this will probably only fly in the open category.

However, to be complete I will say this: if for some reason you do not comply to the regulations in the open category, you’ll find yourself in the specific category. This involves dropping goods (such as package delivery of spraying crops), flying with a drone heavier then 25kg, flying BVLOS (beyound visual line of sight) and a few other.

The certified category is based mostly around manned flights or flights that are simply very dangerous. Here one needs a certificate for the drone as for the operation due to the danger it brings with it. Think about airtaxi’s and such.

Conculsion

Most people do not know about the legislation provided by the EU. Hopefully, you have found this article a bit more enlightning then the boring and somewhat complicated file found on EASA (see link bellow).

Flying a drone is not as simple as ordering one online and take it to the skyes. There are a lot of restrictions, however, they are needed to keep it safe for manned and unmanned flights alike. Don’t, I repeat, DON’T fly above 120m AGL at all time and keep it safe around people. There have been many accidents with drones that gave the drone industry in it’s whole a bad name.

To show you what I mean, check the tweet bellow :

Keep it safe, fly by the rules!

I you have any questions, drop them bellow and thanks for reading!

Extra’s

Check this section for some helpfull hints and tips

Log

If you want to keep a log of the flight you do (higly adviced), I would recommend the information bellow :

  • Date
  • Frist name
  • Last name
  • Date of birth
  • Serial number UAS (serial number of the drone you are flying)
  • Take-off coordinates
  • Departure
  • Arrival
  • Flying time (differince between departure and arrival)
  • Damage (if there was damage during flight)
  • Remarks

Conversion methods

1ft = 0,3048 m
1m/s = 3,6 km/h
1knot = 1,852 km/h

Quick conversions

Feet to m = divide by 10, then times three
knots to km/h = times 2, minus a bit
m/s to knots = times 2

Hello there! My name is Axel. Gamer, film and series enthousiast, dronepilot, traveler and … accountant

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