The Open Category

Oct 3 / Mark Prendergast
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New EU Regulation

Under the new package of EU drone regulation, operations of unmanned aircraft will fall into one of three new categories, namely the Open, Specific and Certified categories. The Open category caters for operations that present low or no risk to third parties; be they on the ground or in the air. 

UAS operations permitted under the Open category are defined and bounded by regulations. No aviation authority ‘approval’ is required. However, pilots must meet minimum competency standards achieved through formal training.   

Main Rules

The Open category considers both ‘air’ and ‘ground’ risk and is bounded by 6 main rules.

  1. Pilots must always maintain their drone in Visual Line of Sight (VLOS). (Air & Ground Risk).

  1. Pilots must not fly their drone higher than 120m above ground level. (Air Risk)
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  1. Drones must have a Max Take-Off Weight (MTOW) no greater than 25kg (drone, camera, battery, accessories, payload). (Ground Risk).

  • No drone flying in ‘Geographic Areas’ out of bounds to the Open category. (Air & Ground Risk).

  • No payload should be dropped from drones and no ‘dangerous goods’ (ICAO defined) should be carried. (Ground Risk).

  • Depending on the weight or CE certified class of drone used, a minimum horizontal distance from ‘Uninvolved Persons’ must be maintained. Pilots must never fly their drone over ‘Assemblies' of people. (Ground Risk).

‘Legacy’ and new ‘CE’ Certified Drones

EU Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2019/945) provides for a new standard of drone manufacturing. Drones designed and manufactured to the new standard will have a ‘Conformité Européenne’ (CE) stamp affixed to them. The Open category allows for five (5) CE certified drone classes, namely Class C0 – C4. Depending on the CE class drone used, different minimum distances from ‘Uninvolved Persons’ must be maintained. Manufacturers and retailers are not required to place CE certified drones on the EU market until 01 Jan 2023. Operators and Pilots should note, no CE certified drones exist today. 


Drones available today are by regulation referred to as ‘legacy’ drones. These are the DJI, Yuneec, Autel, Walkera and other drones’ pilots currently utilise. Articles 20 and 22 of Regulation (EU) 2019/947 cater for how 'legacy' drones may be operated in the Open category. These Articles place much greater flight restrictions on 'legacy' drones when compared to operating CE certified drones in the Open category.

The rational behind these extra restrictions is simply one of enforcement and safety. Among other features, CE certified drones will have full Geo-awareness, hard & soft stops on drone height, noise and electronic standards and remote ID broadcasting. All designed with the Open category restrictions in mind. Any drone without a manufacturer applied CE certified sticker is a ‘legacy’ drone and must be flown to the more restrictive limits in the Open category. See sub-categories below.


 Sub-Categories

Depending on the CE certified/‘Legacy’ drone a pilot is flying, and the level of training they have received, they may fly within the limitation of one of the three (3) sub-categories the Open category is divided into. The three sub-categories are referred to as A1, A2 and A3. Operators and Pilots should note that ‘legacy’ drones with a max take-off weight (MTOW) of 250g or greater are restricted to the A3 category after 01 Jan 2023. 

Training

The EU drone regulation requires that every pilot, recreational and commercial, receive some form of training. This requirement is in response to the continued occurrence of pilots flying beyond what regulations require, in part due to a lack of understanding of the rules. By requiring a minimum ‘foundation’ training standard, it is hoped to improve awareness and prevent some of this illegal flying.

To fly in sub-category A1 & A3, a pilot must complete the foundation course. This training provides guidance on the regulations and requires 40 multiple choice questions be answered. On successful completion of this course a pilot receives their “Proof of Training’ certificate from the aviation authority. This certificate is valid across the EU.
Those wishing to fly in the more advanced A2 category (heavier drone flying close to people), need to complete both the A1/A3 foundation course and an additional A2 module provided by recognised entities such as Safe Drone Academy (www.safedrone.ie). These courses may be provided online. A recognised entity will then confirm to an aviation authority (IAA) that A2 competence has been met and the pilot applicant can apply for their A2 ‘Certificate of Competence’. This certificate is also valid through out the EU.

Geographic Zones

EU Member States are required to define areas where drone flying is allowed, restricted or forbidden. Among other reasons, Member States should consider safety, security, privacy or environmental reasons when deciding on any geographic zones. By regulation, these geographic zones are to be made available in digital format by 01 Jul 2021. Subsequently, drone manufacturers should be able to produce very accurate maps of flying and non-flying areas, geo-fencing areas that are out of bounds to drones.

Until this date and in line with current requirements, Open category operators and pilots in Ireland are to remain clear of many areas such as, ATC controlled airspace, prisons, hospitals with helicopter landing pads, helicopter refueling pads, Athlone town military barracks, the Curragh military camp, military weapons ranges when active and military airspace. The Phoenix Park is also an area that is prohibited to fly in. Additionally, pilots are required to avoid flying over national monuments and many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Safe Drone's handy airspace-map provides guidance on ATC airspace areas and some other areas to be avoided. Click on the map to view the live version. 




Data Protection

The new EU regulation requires operators and pilots to be mindful of data protection and privacy regulation. A photo or video is considered data. Data protection is a complex area but in general, never capture imagery, sound or other data of people in their private residence.

In public areas, make sure you have a ‘legal basis’ for capturing and publishing data if doing so for commercial reasons. Legal basis includes reasons such as consent or contract, public task or vital interest and/or legitimate interest. You become an official 'data controller' in these cases with regulatory obligations.

Capturing data in public areas is also possible if it is for personal use only, the so called 'household exemption'. Always be sensible though, if you publish something online and are asked to take it down, then it is probably wise to do so. 

In general, before you hit record, do a quick Data Impact Assessment to ensure you are not about to capture illegal data or you are capturing the minimal amount of data you require. 


Insurance

The new EU drone regulation does not require operators or pilots of drones to be insured. This requirement falls under the remit of individual member states or is already covered by the EU’s aviation insurance regulation (EC) 785/2004. This regulation requires all unmanned aircraft be insured for third party risks unless they weight less than 20kg and are used for recreational purposes only.  

The Open category will cater for many recreational pilots and so in compliance with the EC regulation, there is mostly is no requirement to have insurance. However, if you conduct commercial operations in the Open category Regulation 785/2004 requires you to obtain a minimum public liability insurance policy. Operators and pilots should note, insurance companies may not insure pilots with the basic competence required of the A1/A3 foundation course.

Specific Category

If operators or pilots find the restrictions of the Open category too limiting for their requirements, the Specific category allows more flexibility. Operators and pilots will find the Specific category allows more freedom of operation with ‘legacy’ drones and drones weighing more than 25kgs, the ability to fly in controlled airspace and other geographic areas that are out of bounds to the Open category. It is also possible to conduct limited Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. 

Specific category operations require aviation authority approval, and in many pre-defined operational cases this process is very straight forward. To meet the increased risk profile of these operations, more competence in both the operator and pilot is demanded. These requirements are facilitated through more advanced operational procedures and training. Contact Safe Drone Academy (www.safedrone.ie) for more details.

Blue Skies and Safe landings. 
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