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Expert insight from DJI and the CAA on the changing Drone Regulations

Last updated on

March 16, 2020


    COPTRZ asked the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and drone heavyweights DJI to share their industry insight on the upcoming changing drone regulations in the UK. With some key changes coming in July, we wanted to find out what to expect and how it could impact on your everyday commercial drone operations.

    What you’ll find out in this blog:

    • How does Brexit impact the changing Drone Regulations? 
    • How will manufacturers like DJI be affected?
    • What should existing PfCO holders do? 
    • How will the transition period for legacy drones work?
    • What are the positive effects of the changing Drone Regulations? 

    A quick overview of the changing Drone Regulations

    As you may have noticed, there are some big changes coming into effect this summer. On 31st December 2020 new drone regulations introducing a class system for drones, along with categories for flights will I’ve introduced for commercial and non-commercial pilots. Flights will no longer be differentiated by whether they’re considered commercial or non-commercial, but instead will be evaluated on the degree of risk, the level of performance and the type of operation being carried out.

    In theory, it seems that not a huge amount will change, at least in the short term. There is a two-year transition period, so existing PfCO holders can continue as they have been – and likewise, your current drone or permissions won’t suddenly become illegal or redundant after 1st July 2020.

    The aim is to create more of a tiered system that better reflects the diversity of the industry and helps to protect drone pilots and the public. This stretches to the extent where non-commercial flights with a high degree of risk could require certain permissions (that the current system doesn’t ask for) and, conversely, low-risk commercial operations might be allowed without a Permissions. To get the full lowdown, you can read our original blog post following the announcement HERE, or more on the new training system and certifications HERE.

    Coptz have put together an eBook with all of the information you need to know about the new regulation changes in one place. Download your copy here.

    Q&A with industry experts  

    To get a legal and logistical insight we spoke with Jonathan Nicholson, Assistant Director of Communications for the CAA. For more of an industry perspective, both in terms of manufacturing and commercial/enterprise operations, we spoke with Christian Struwe, DJI’s EMEA Policy Director.

    Please note the Q&A’s were answered separately and compiled into one blog post so it’s easy to digest. Also, the Q&A’s happened before the UK government announced its plans to withdraw from EASA at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. However, the CAA has since made it clear that this will have no impact on the changes coming in July and the system will continue to work within EASA guidelines:

     “During this period, the UK and the aviation sector will continue to follow EU law and to participate in the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) system. As a result, businesses and individuals operating in the UK should see no change to existing conditions during the transition period, while the longer-term UK-EU relationship on aviation is determined.”


    The UK isn’t the only nation that EASA has been working with on this system. So, are we right to assume that Brexit won’t make much difference to what’s being put into place?

    CAA changing drone regulations“This is precisely the point – this is an EU UAS regulation package and so they immediately become law across all EU and associated member states. As a point of note, these are not ‘EASA rules’, they are European Commission Regulations. So, for drone users moving from country to country, or looking to work in other EU nations, the good news is that the rules won’t change when they cross borders. The UK is required to implement these new EU UAS regulations because they fall under the requirements of the EU Transition Period.”  Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    In your opinion will the upcoming changes have a positive impact? 

    CAA changing drone regulations“We put a lot of effort into working with EASA over the past few years as it was drawing up the new regulations. As a result, we think on the whole they should be a positive change. Much of the operational rules around where you can and can’t fly are based on what we already had in the UK, while for some other countries there are significant changes.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    DJI changing drone regulations“The new regulations are in general a positive development for commercial and hobbyist users alike. They will allow simple low-risk commercial operations to be easily undertaken while still ensuring that more advanced operations require CAA involvement.” Christian Struwe, DJI

    Changing Drone Regulations

    What do you see making the biggest difference – to either drone users or manufacturers?

    DJI changing drone regulations“To drone manufacturers, the biggest change is obviously the product requirements that are part of the CE marking. We are still working on the exact details, but it is a completely new way of regulating the drone industry. For users, things will largely remain the same, although some changes are coming.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    Do you think Commercial Drone Pilots will need to make any changes to their day-to-day operations? Or see their freedom to operate change, as a result to the changing drone regulations?

    DJI changing drone regulations“The idea is that the new framework should give more operational freedom, although some initial confusion is to be expected. We do expect the CAA to take a clear role in addressing any such confusion and hopefully, it will be bumps on the road. Most businesses should be able to continue operations unchanged, but there may, of course, be specific circumstances that will require few businesses to change practices.” Christian Struwe, DJI

    CAA changing drone regulations“We’re not anticipating that existing commercial or approved operators will need to do anything significantly different in so far as how they fly. We do have a change in emphasis around moving away from commercial benefit being a key driver to regulation, but we think that’s a sensible change because the primary factor is the risk of the operation being carried out; the higher the risk, the greater the level of scrutiny. We don’t think it will necessarily change people’s freedoms but there may be some operators who didn’t need an approval – as they were not operating commercially – that may now need one and vice versa.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    Changing Drone Regulations

    What’s the deal with existing PfCO holders? How will the changing drone regulations impact on their current permissions after 1st July and will further training be required?

    CAA changing drone regulations“The PfCO and the GVC must not be viewed in the same context. An operating permission, such as the PfCO, is an authorisation from the CAA to conduct a type of UAS operation. The GVC is a remote pilot competency qualification.

    “The approach for PfCO holders is exactly the same as it is for all other permission or exemption holders. The most important point to note is that what the CAA considers safe today will not suddenly become ‘unsafe’ or ‘illegal’ on 1st July 2020 and so all permissions and exemptions will continue to apply until their expiry dates. At the point of expiry, the operator has the option of either renewing – in which case he or she will receive an operational authorisation with the same privileges – or opting out of the CAA’s oversight and operating in the Open category, if the limitations of the Open category can sufficiently cover his or her requirements.”

    “For those operators that renew, there will be no requirements to retrain or take additional tests, because their current operation is already deemed to be safe.  At a later date, perhaps three or four years from now, we will expect all remote pilots to have ‘converted’ or ‘refreshed’ to the GVC, but the exact timings have not yet been decided.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    Manufacturers typically develop products in line with existing regulations. But will the changing drone regulations see a more distinct shift, with products designed to align with certain classes?

    DJI changing drone regulations“Luckily, there is still freedom to design products with unique features. The requirements set a common baseline for safety features that responsible manufacturers should follow. I am sure we will see products narrowly fitting into one category, but at the end of the day it is demand driving what the industry will develop.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    Will manufacturers also look to be proactive in terms of labelling their products to reflect this?

    DJI changing drone regulations“It is an integral part of the regulation that products must be clearly labelled with which category they belong to, so we will of course comply.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    Changing Drone Regulations


    How do you see the ‘legacy’ and transition period working? Some might be concerned their existing models might not fit the bill…

    “As the standards underpinning the different classes are not yet finalised it is too early to say how legacy products can comply. Only once standards are finalised can we start to assess how to bring existing products in with conformity. Either way, users will of course still be able to use them in the ‘limited open category’.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    “The first point to note is that the ‘CE’ markings do not work retrospectively.  So, a current 800g aircraft, for example, will not automatically become a C1 model – it will only ever be an unmanned aircraft that weighs 800g. In order to be given a particular class marking, the aircraft will need to be designed and manufactured to the relevant standards of that class marking.”


    “As mentioned, if you are operating under a permission or authorisation from the CAA – i.e. you are in the Specific category – you can continue to use that permission or authorisation, and renew it annually. If you are operating in the Open category – i.e. with no oversight from the CAA – then the appropriate limitations of the Open category must be complied with.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA

    DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual Thermal

    No doubt there’ll be a lot of initial confusion about what operations fall under what category or sub-category, so what will be the best resources to understand the changing drone regulations?

    “Primarily the education piece falls into two different audiences. Firstly, consumer users who fly for fun and who won’t really see much change around the rules, but together with EASA we will be letting these people know what’s different. Then there are people using their drone professionally. Again, EASA is preparing a range of material to explain the changes, including the categories.”

    “We’ll also be building on that and we have the ability to contact existing operators directly to be able to share that information. Essentially, though, you need to approach the question from one of two angles: Either:

    A) What type of flying is it and where do you want to fly? Then look at the category or sub-category that permits this.


    B) What type and weight of unmanned aircraft do I have? Then you look to see which category or sub-category your aircraft falls into and, hence, work out what flying you can perform.”

    Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    Do you think the classification of drone operations will help drive the growth of the industry – and, as a result, the commercial sector?

    “I wouldn’t expect the majority of users to see an effect of the new rules and certainly the easier access to advanced operations in the Specific category should help enterprise growth.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    “Certainly, the new EU regulations do deliver a level playing field across Europe for people looking to work in different countries. As far as the evolution of the industry goes, it’s more likely that work to develop everyday BVLOS and the UTM systems are more likely to drive significant change.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA


    Drone Pilot flying Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual Thermal

    Do you think this could lead to greater acceptance for drones among the wider public? Further proof that drones and drone operators are working within this strict safety-oriented framework…

    DJI changing drone regulations“Hopefully so. Some of the elements in the new regulations are exactly designed for public acceptance, such as geo-awareness and remote ID. Taking the anonymity away from drone operations will hopefully be the factor that wins public trust.” Christian Struwe, DJI


    “All the research and polling that we do with the public shows that people are much more trusting of drones and new technology generally if it comes with regulations and an official body overseeing it.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA



    Is there anything else that you’d like to add or emphasise on the upcoming changing Drone Regulations?

    “Again, we would first want to reiterate the point we made previously: No UAS operation that the CAA has currently authorised, via either permission or an exemption, will ‘suddenly’ become unsafe on 1 July 20. Any permissions or exemptions that are currently valid will be able to be renewed as normal.”


    “As well as the new European regulations we’re also working closely with a number of companies via our innovation team to help the UK benefit from larger and longer-term changes. This includes some significant work in the drone field, such as developing BVLOS, UTM and a wider take up of electronic conspicuity devices in aviation that will help drones into more of the UK’s airspace.”

    “Following on from the new European regulations another set of changes to look out for will be the Government’s Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. This will give the police extra powers, such as on the spot fines, that will help them to tackle rogue users.” Jonathan Nicholson, CAA

    Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual Thermal Police

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