The European drone regulation will come into force six months behind the previous roadmap: from July 1 2020 to January 1 2021. The reason is due to the measures taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which slows down the activities of all those involved in the implementation of the regulation.
From that day on, drones and aspiring drones will be able to count on a series of rules governing once and for all, hopefully, the practice of piloting a drone for leisure and commercial purposes. The competence of the regulation of the so-called SAPR operations (remotely piloted aircraft) will pass from ENAC (National Civil Aviation Authority) to EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency. This is the last installment of a not exactly linear soap opera the discipline on the use of drones in Italy, often complicated to follow but up to now mostly concerning professionals.
Table of Contents
DIFFERENT CATEGORIES FOR DRONES AND OPERATIONS
To clarify, when we speak of “operations,” we simply mean to fly your drone, but the legislative jargon must still be learned to avoid taking fireflies for lanterns. Well, EASA has set up some categories for operations and some categories for drones; in this way, it is easy to understand what are the requirements to be met. To start, you have to ask yourself the questions: what do I want to do with my drone? And how much does my drone weigh?
The first categorization depends on the type of flight that is performed with the drone (but not only), in particular, but the potential danger of the operation is also taken into consideration. Warning, not the danger to the drone, i.e., high possibility of crashing it on a tree or a cliff, but a great danger to people and things (for example, risk of dropping it on someone’s head or ending up against the glass of a building ). The categories are three and include everything that can fly, from small drones to passenger planes.
DRONE REGULATION OPERATIONS CATEGORIES
The categories that interest us are the OPEN and SPECIFIC because they are the two categories with amateurs, and professionals must familiarize themselves. To understand the difference between the two, a simple sentence is enough: everything that does not fall into the OPEN category becomes the SPECIFIC category. Knowing, therefore, the requisites to re-enter an OPEN operation, it will automatically be easy to understand if it is bounded in a specific operation.
Let us give two examples: for an OPEN operation, the weight of the drone must not exceed 25 kg; if therefore, the drone is heavier, the operation will take on the characteristic of SPECIFIC. For the OPEN category, only the visual flight of sight -VLOS is foreseen and no more than 120 meters in height; if you exceed even one of these limitations, the operation becomes specific.
For the SPECIFIC category, there are special authorizations assessed from time to time by the competent bodies; in turn, the specific operations can become certified if there are certain hazard requirements that cannot remain within the specific boundary, for these aeronautical rules apply. Ok, it is twisted, but it concerns professionals who are already required to comply with complicated regulations, here we are more concerned with the regulation for consumer drones, the various DJI, Xiaomi, self-built, etc.
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DRONE REGULATION THE OPEN CATEGORY
Now we will focus more on the OPEN category, the one where good or bad, we all fall for the flight with drone regulation for fun or entertainment—relatively small and affordable drones for everyone in terms of piloting.
To fall into the OPEN category, there are four basic requirements to be respected:
- VLOS flight only (visual flight)
- Only drones under 25 kg MTOM ( MTOM means maximum take-off mass, i.e., maximum take-off mass)
- Maximum flight height of 120 meters
- The drone must have a CE mark.
Suppose even one of these requirements is not respected. Much more stringent requirements. (for example the ENAC flight authorization).
Here things are quite clear. The various Mavics, from the Mini upwards. It can potentially fly over 120 meters in height and away from their field of vision. However, know that if they “pinch” you in this situation, you can be sanctioned (and it won’t be that difficult to be caught, but we’ll see why).
Now, within the OPEN category, there are three other subcategories: A1 – A2 – A3, which depend on the flight position in relation to people.
- A1: above people (pilot excluded)
- A2: close to people
- A3: away from people.
Also, there is another subcategory that examines the mass of the drone:
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- C0: MTOM <250 g
- C1: MTOM <900 g
- C2: MTOM <4 kg
- C3: MTOM <25 kg
The table we insert below must be the bible; learn it well because it briefly summarizes everything you need to know.
- In class A1 (flight over uninformed people), you can only fly with drones under 250 grams or drones between 250 and 900 grams ONLY WITH CE DRONES. In this class, you can also fly over urban centers.
- The only case in which it is not necessary to have a “license” is to fly with drones under 250 grams, commercial or self-built.
- Only drones under 250 grams do not need an electronic identification system (transponder)
- If the drone regulation exceeds 900 grams with a new CE mark, you can fly close to people (A2), but only if the pilot has passed a theoretical test carried out in an authorized center (flight in A2C2), in addition to the A1 / A3 license.
- Class A3 collects all drones that do not appear in other classes. Drones above 900 grams, self-built above 250 grams.
NEW CE MARK
What is written in the table above is valid for drones marked with the new CE label? For example, it is, therefore, not valid for all DJI drones currently on the market. What happens, for example with a Mavic Air 1 or a Mavic Pro 1 and 2?
The new label includes the CE mark followed by a number indicating the category the drone regulation belongs to CE-01, CE-02. As we saw in the review of the Mavic Air 2, in reality, the legislation is still not completely clear. The DJI itself complains of still hazy standards that have not allowed its latest drone to be certified with the new CE mark.
If the device weighs less than 250 grams, nothing happens. The drone can fly in A1, A2, A3 forever respecting the rules of the OPEN categories. On the other hand, it weighs between 250 and 500 grams. It can be subject to category A1C1 until June 2022. After which it will end up in category A3. Therefore it can only fly in A3.
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A nice complication: for drones over 250 grams, there is an electronic identification device (ADS-B). However, it will be necessary to fly A1 and A2, probably not for A3 flight. For the moment, it doesn’t make sense to worry. We will know more in the coming months.
FLIGHT AREAS ALLOWED
On the D-Flight website, you can consult the constantly-updated maps of the flight areas for free. You must first register for free on the site, after which you will have access to the map. The area in which you find yourself can have different characteristics in which the permitted flight height changes. Where not specified, the general rules of the OPEN category will remain valid (120 m high and VLOS flight). In the red areas, you cannot fly without drone regulation.
From January 1 2021 for recreational purposes, it will be necessary to obtain an enabling license to be able to pilot a drone over 250 grams (the obligation was already in force since March 1 for professionals who must refer to the ENAC regulation of November 2019).
You don’t run away. You need to get your license unless you want to fly only drones under 250 grams. The good Mavic Mini comes into play, which is the only drone with good skills that do not fall under the obligations. Nothing to do instead for the various Mavic Air, less than ever for the first and second generation Pros.
Getting the license costs 31 Euros. Until January 1, you will pay only for the passed exam. You can try it up to 6 times a week. After January 1st, each attempt will cost 31 Euros. It is therefore clear that the advice is to try in every way to pass the test before January. Since the topic is complex. We have dedicated an article to the drone regulation in which you will find all the necessary information. You can reach it from the link below.
As of January 1, 2021, each drone equipped with a video camera system must be registered on the D-Flight website. This type of recording has nothing to do with the license we mentioned above.
The question we asked ourselves is: what happens for small self-made drones and not with a low definition camera for FPV? The answer is not so obvious because the first part of the sentence would suggest. They are exempt (high definition camera), while the conclusion of the sentence is clear.
Our Mavic Mini that weighs 249 grams? To register a drone, it is first necessary to register as SAPR operators. This step is free but requires an identification document identification procedure.
For professionals, as you can see in the photo. The rates are different and more important—a nice fee for each individual drone plus an annual subscription.
It does not express concern the European regulation but is, in any case, a valid rule for the Italian territory. So, it is a transitory regulation in view of the transition to the European one. However, this indication will most likely come maintained.
We quote article 32: ” It is not allowed to conduct operations with a SAPR unless insurance concerning liability to third parties. On average this is a price of around 30 Euros per year for recreational drones. Some specialized magazines such as Dronezine and groups of hobbyists are offering advantageous policies with various proposals on coverages.