A Deep Dive into the new Drone Rules that landed 1 January 2021

The First Big Change:

Different Rules for Different Drones

The Drone Open Category – Drone focus

Until now, all drones weighing less than 7kgs, so in practice 99% of all drones, were treated the same.

From 1 January 2021, that is no longer the case.  Drones of different weights and speeds will be treated differently.  In recognition of the fact that a big, heavy, fast drone can cause much more harm if it collides with someone than a small, light, slow one.

*New Drones that meet the requirements of the new Regulations have not been put on the market as of 24 October 2020

**With a new one-day qualification, the A2 Certificate of Competence, and a C2 category drone

Here is the reason to make sure you renew your PfCO, if you have one already, or obtain your PfCO before 31 December, if you don’t:

If you hold a PfCO on 31 December 2020, you will be able to renew your PfCO, and fly under “PfCO Rules” until at least the end of 2022.  PfCO rules have certain big advantages over GVC rules, especially the abilty to overfly uninvolved people and congested areas, so long as your drone is more than 50m above them.

*A congested area is an area where more than 25% of the land area within 150m of the drone is covered in buildings

** To fly a C2 Category drone you must have completed the A2 Certificate of Competence

All of this is contained in two pieces of EU Legislation

Delegated Regulation (Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019 / 945) applicable 1 July 2019

Implementing Regulation (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019 / 947) applicable from 1 July 2020

“The concept of harmonisation across Europe is one of the key aims of the EU, and with this in mind, these regulations are intended to simplify the overall process for UAS operations, and remove the need to refer to separate regulations within each Member or Contracting State.  An additional, but no less fundamental, objective was the desire to foster a greater European market which would promote the growth of the European UAS industry.”

Started with an “Advance Notice of Proposed Amendment” in August 2015

“Prototype Rules” were published in August 2016. EU Parliament approved in June 2018.

General Principles

Air risks:                      Collisions with manned aircraft or other unmanned aircraft

Ground risks:            Collisions with persons or critical infrastructure.  No longer concerned with buildings other than critical infrastructure

 Open Category – Operations that present a low (or no) risk to third parties.

Specific Category – Operations that present a greater risk than the Open Category, or fall outside the boundaries of the Open Category.  Operations will require an operational authorisation from the CAA, based on a safety risk assessment.

Certified Category – Present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation, so will be subject to same regime as for manned aviation.





<400ft AGL

“A Category”: Where you can Fly


Must have a “Maximum Take-Off Mass” of less than 250gms


Must have a CE kitemark.  All DJI drones since Jan 2018 are CE kitemarked


No closer than 30m HORIZONTALLY from uninvolved people

Unless in Low Speed Mode – in which case can operate down to 5m HORIZONTALLY from uninvolved people

The pilot must have completed an additional competency exam, at a testing / training centre, called the A2 Certificate of Competence (A2 CofC)


Fly in areas clear of uninvolved persons and not in congested areas

If uninvolved people enter the area, the pilot must move the drone away from them

Until further guidance received from EASA, CAA advice is “clear of uninvolved people” means > 50m horizonally

“C Category”: What you can Fly

C0 – Can be flown in all A Categories



Cannot be flown more than 400ft from the transmitter

C1 – Can be flown in all A Categories


OR energy on impact <80 Joules


Minimise injury

C2 – Can be flown in A2 and A3 only


Equipped with a low speed mode < 3m/s

Remote identification, Geoawareness 

C3 & C4 – Can be flown in A3 (far from people)


Provides a long-term home for all legacy drones

Transitional Arrangements

Drones weighing <250gms may be flown in A1 (over people) indefinitely.

Until June 2022 drones <500gms can be used in A1

Until June 2022 legacy drones <2kgs can operate in A2 but >50m horizontally from people

Legacy drones may be able to join the C – class categories by being retrofitted with an ADS-B transponder & a system for transmitting location of drone and pilot (expected to be lightweight – less than 20gms, and cheap – less than £20)



A Specific Category Operation is one which cannot be done in the Open Category, but is not complicated enough for the Certfified Category.

The Specific Category requires the pilot to hold an Operational Authorisation – the equivalent of what is currently called “permissions and exemptions”, ie PfCO.

Operators will have to make a declaration to the CAA that they intend to follow one of the “standard scenarios” which haven’t been published yet, and are not expected until early 2021.  The operation can only commence once the CAA has responded to confirm declaration is complete.



This category is for much larger drones.  Effectively aeroplanes, only without a pilot onboard.  So they will be treated as aeroplanes for certification purposes.  Thus, this category need not concern us.


New(ish) Acronyms

GVC              General Visual Line of Sight Certificate

A2 CofC       Category A2 – Flight to within 5m. in low-speed mode, 30m


RAE                Recognised Assessment Entity (replacing National Qualifying Entities – NQEs as we transition from PfCO to GVC)

OSC               Operating Safety Case

SORA             Specific Operational Risk Assessment

PDRA             Pre-defined Risk Assessment

EASA              European Aviation Safety Agency

STS                  Standard Scenario

TPM                Technical Procedures Manual


Observations and Commentary

  • It is no longer about buildings, it is all about people
  • The concept of Congested Area is carried over
  • Insurance requirements don’t change – you will need insurance if you are flying commercially. This comes not from the Drone Regs, but from the EU’s Aviation Insurance Regulation (EC) 785/2004.
  • Open Category flights will be permitted by any Operator who has Registered, anywhere in the EU
  • Specific Category Flights in the EU will be possible for any EU pilot holding an Operational Authorisation – but only once the operator has applied to the relevant foreign country CAA
  • Assemblies of people – instead of it being a fixed 1,000 people, there are no numbers mentioned. Instead, the focus is on whether people would be able to move away from a threat
  • A3 Category is more-or-less what recreational pilots have now, except that you will not be able to overfly people at any height. Other than that, it is actually more generous in terms of how close to buildings you can fly
  • People “not under your control” become “uninvolved people”
  • Structures can now be included in the 400ft rule, so long as you have permission from the owner of the structure
  • It is only A3 category drones that cannot be flown in a congested area
  • The rules make clear they only apply outdoors. So people inside buildings don’t count when it comes to how close you can fly to things
  • The A2 Certificate of Competence will be valuable for owners of new drones, and of legacy drones that can be retrofitted to meet the requirements to be classified in the new C2 category
  • Everyone is focusing on the Open Category. But if you don’t like what you see in the Open Category, there is a parallel universe called the Specific Category.  You can fly in the Specific Category IF you have your PfCO, under current PfCO rules (so over uninvolved people and in congested areas) until end June 2022.  And you can fly your legacy drone without modification until at least June 2022
  • With the A2 Certificate of Competence and a C2 class drone, you will be able to fly really close to people – down to 5m! Much closer than you can currently
  • “Legacy drones” ie those without a CE marking, will be pushed out of the “close to people” categories
  • Legacy Mavic Mini is not troubled by the max 120m away from pilot rule
  • But the key to flying < 250gms is the MTOM, which the Mavic Mini exceeds
  • Existing structure is PfCO + OSC. New structure will be GVC + additional training and scenario planning
  • Note – rules around where you can take off and land don’t change, because these are nothing to do with the Air Navigation Order, they are to do with property rights and trespass etc.

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