Drone Laws: Explained

Last updated on

July 26, 2022


Feeling confused about the UK drone laws?  

Are you confused about the UK drone laws and regulations that came into effect in 2021? Unsure of the differences between the new or the GVC? Don’t worry… Coptrz has got you covered.

In this blog, we will cover everything you need to know about the current regulations, with the knowledge coming straight from our industry experts.

We have also put together an eBook with all of the information about drone regulations in one place. You can download your copyhere.


drone regulations guide

Our UAV experts Aleks Boric and Harry Crawford recently hosted a webinar where they discussed the updates to the UK drone laws and regulations, courses and answered some of your questions. Missed it? Don’t worry, you can catch up here:

This blog will be your one-stop-shop for all things drone regulations. We will cover:

  • Why the UK drone laws and regulations changed in 2021?
  • The new classification system
  • The flight risk assessment changes
  • What the drone registration process looks like and what you will need to do to comply?
  • What the new drone laws mean for you if you’re already a commercial pilot?
  • How Coptrz can support you through understanding the drone regulations
  • The courses Coptrz provides to ensure that you are fully compliant with the drone regulations
  • We will answer some of your most asked questions about the regulations

UK drone laws

Why have the Drone Laws changed?

The new drone regulations are designed to align with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and build on the new Drone and Model Aircraft Registration Scheme in the UK. The main reason to do this is so that Europe as a whole are operating under the same standard rather than having different regulations in each country.

The new regulations and classification puts the pressure back onto the manufacturer and will be based around three basic concepts; Type of operation being conducted; Level of risk involved and the Level of performance/capabilities required.

Once the new drone regulations come into effect, operations will fall into one of three categories:

  1. Open category
  2. Specific category
  3. Certified category
Open Category

Pilots who fly in the Open category will be controlled by three main factors. These are:

  • The maximum take-off mass of the unmanned aircraft must be less than 25kg;
  • The unmanned aircraft must be operated within visual line of sight (VLOS);
  • The unmanned aircraft must not be flown higher than 120 metres (400 feet);

All three of these factors must apply for an Open category operation. If not, then the operation must be conducted under the requirements of the Specific category instead.

However, the 400ft height limit can be exceeded when overflying a fixed obstacle, provided that:

  • The person in charge of the ‘obstacle’ has granted permission (i.e. the reason for the flight is related to that obstacle);
  • The unmanned aircraft is not flown more than 15m above the top of the obstacle and must be kept within 50m horizontally of it.
Open Sub-Categories


Drones in this category pose a very low risk of harm or injury to people due to their low weight (drone weighs less than 250g), their type of construction, or because they are a toy (‘inherently harmless’); Flights over open-air groups of people are not permitted

A Parrot Anafi would be permitted to fly in the A1 category.

Parrot Anafi


Drones must be no heavier than 4kg; You can fly to a minimum safe horizontal distance of 30m from uninvolved people; You can fly down to 5m horizontally of uninvolved people when the drones ‘ low-speed mode’ is selected; The operator must have completed the A2 CofC.

A Mavic 3 would be permitted to fly in an A2 category.

Mavic 3



This category covers the more general types of operations; The drone will only be flown in areas that are clear of uninvolved persons; Will not be flown in areas that are used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes (equivalent to ‘congested areas’).

An M300 would be permitted to fly in an A3 category.


Drone Classes in Open Category:

Flying Class C0 Drones in A1 Subcategory (Under 250g)

C0 drones are small and include toy drones;

  • Under 250g maximum take-off mass;
  • Maximum speed of 19m/s (approx. 42.5mph);
  • Cannot be flown more than 120m (400ft) from the pilot
What training and certification do I need to fly a C0 Drone?
  • UK Drone Registration required if camera equipped
  • Read manufacturer user manual
  • Online training for Commercial operators
  • Online foundation test for Commercial operators

Flying Class C1 Drones in the A1 Subcategory (Under 900g)

C1 drones are heavier than C0 drones and cover more commercial UAV’s;

– Under 900g in maximum take-off mass, or are made and perform in a way that if they collide with a person, the energy transmitted will be less than 80 Joules;
– They have a maximum speed of 19m/s (approx. 42.5 mph);
– They are designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people;
– The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits, height limits and requirements for remote identification and geo-awareness systems.

What training and certification do I need to fly a C1 Drone?
  • UK Drone Registration required
  • Read manufacturer user manual
  • Online training
  • Online foundation test

Flying Class C2 drones in the A2 subcategory ‘close to’ (Under 4kg)

C2 class drones:

Are less than 4kg in weight;

  • They are designed and constructed so as to minimise injury to people;
  • They are equipped with a low-speed mode which limits the maximum speed to 3m/s (approx. 6.7 mph) when selected by the remote pilot;
  • The standards also cover other aspects such as noise limits (but different from Class C1), height limits and requirements for remote identification and geo-awareness systems, plus additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight.
What training and certification do I need to fly a C2 Drone?
  • UK Drone Registration required
  • Read manufacturer user manual
  • Online training
  • Online foundation test
  • Self-practical training
  • Certificate of Competence theoretical test (CofC Test)

Flying Class C3 drones in the A3 subcategory far from people (Under 25kg)

Drones that have automatic control modes (such as found in typical multi-rotar drones) which:

  • Weigh less than 25kg in take-off mass;
  • The standards also cover other aspects covering height limits and requirements for remote identification and geo-awareness systems;
  • There are also additional requirements if it is to be used during tethered flight, but there is no specified noise limit;
What training and certification do I need to fly a C3 Drone?
  • UK Drone Registration required
  • Read manufacturer user manual
  • Online training
  • Online foundation test

Flying class C4 drones in the A3 subcategory far from people (Under 25kg):

  • C4 class drones don’t possess any automation, other than for basic flight stabilisation (and so are more representative of a ‘traditional’ model aircraft);
  • C4 drones are less than 25kg maximum take-off mass.
What training and certification do I need to fly a C4 Drone?
  • UK Drone Registration required
  • Read manufacturer user manual
  • Online training
  • Online foundation test

What Class is my Drone? 

The new drone regulations for flight categories and classes began two years ago on 31st December 2020, but it has been recognised that manufacturers will need time to create products that are compliant with the new standards set out in each of the classes.

During this transitional period, 2022 drone products that are compliant with the Class C0 to C4 standards are being introduced for sale/used in the Open category. These are e known as ‘legacy’ aircraft.

Specific Category

Specific category operations present a greater risk with one or more elements of the operation falling outside the boundaries of the Open category. You will require Operational Authorisation from the CAA based on a risk assessment.

The CAA outlined a basic description of a Specific category operation as a UAS operation that ‘cannot be done within the Open category, but is not complicated enough for the certified category’.

To operate in the specific category, you will need an operational authorisation issued by the CAA. To obtain this, you need to first complete the following:

  • Completion of the CAA’s ‘Drone and Model Aircraft’ online training course for basic remote pilot competency;
  • Successful completion of the CAA’s online competency test and be in possession of the ‘Flyer ID’ number associated with that test
  • Complete the GVC training course and pass a theory exam
  • Complete your operations manual
  • Complete and pass a flight assessment

It is similar to the old process required to obtain a PfCO.

Certified Category

The Certified category is for operations that are considered to be high risk/complex, this includes operations with larger SUA that have a mass above 25kg.

Certified category operations present the same level of risk to manned aviation and will be subjected to the same regulatory regime (i.e. certification of the aircraft, certification of the operator, licensing of the pilot).

Examples of operations that would fall into this category are:

  • Transport of people
  • Transport of dangerous goods
  • Large UAS operating over assemblies of people
PfCO – Permission for Commerical Operations

Anyone with a valid PfCO will still be able to operate under its limitations and conditions until its expiry date, and will be able to renew their permission as an Operational Authorisation after December 31st 2020 if renewed before its expiry.

Anyone that has trained with COPTRZ in 2019 that did not complete their PfCO course will be able to transfer onto a GVC course to complete the required GVC assessments free of charge, once the GVC course and assessments are complete you will be able to apply to the CAA for an Operational Authorisation.

What should I do with my PfCO once it expires?

If you let your PfCO expire after December 2020 you will not be able to renew it as an Operational Authorisation with your NQE certificates and will have to complete a GVC course with an RAE to get the required GVC certificates to apply for an operational Authorisation.

This means if you want to continue to operate drones within the specific category without having to retrain and resit competency assessments in the short term, you must ensure you Operations manual is updated to reflect the changes and submitted to the CAA for renewal in plenty of time.

A2 CofC – Certificate of Competency Drone Training

The A2 CofC is a new Certificate of Competency that came into effect on the December 31st 2020 under the new EU UAS Regulations. This may be required to fly under certain conditions within the Open Category.

Depending on what equipment you have and how you plan to use it you may need a A2 CofC. If you hold an A2 CofC you will be able to fly in the A2 or A1 subcategory if your aircraft meets the specification requirements. The A2 subcategory allows you to fly a C2 aircraft down to a distance of 30m horizontally from uninvolved people or up to 5m in ‘low-speed mode’. 0r 50m horizontally from uninvolved people for A2 Transitional Aircraft.

COPTRZ, who were an approved NQE, have transitioned to be a RAE provider (Recognised Assessment Entity). This means we’re able to train pilots wanting to access the A2 CofC qualification online through Coptrz Academy. You can enrol with Coptrz Academy for free!

The A2 CofC course will cover theory such as the basic principles of flight, operating in congested areas, how to avoid collision, battery safety, and environmental factors.

After your A2 CofC Training course you will have to complete some practical flight training (either with a RAE such as COPTRZ or under self-monitored circumstances).

Once you have completed the practical flight training you will complete a short multiple-choice test with 30 questions.

The main difference between the PfCO/Operational Authorisation and the new CofC is there is no flight assessment and no need to write an Operations Manual, however the limitations that you will be able to fly under will be dependant of the Class (or Mass if a transitional aircraft)

The CofC qualification lasts for five years before you need to renew it.

What can I fly in A2 Subcategory?

You can fly C2 drones in the A2 subcategory as well as transitional Aircraft under 2kg such as the DJI Mavic or Phantom series for example. C2 aircraft have a maximum take-off mass less than 4kg and a low-speed mode or no more than 2m/s or 6.7mph. The other stipulation for the C2 class of aircraft is to minimise injury, have geo-awareness system and operate quietly with low noise levels.

However, as these C2 drones have yet to be developed by manufacturers there will be a transitional period until December 31st 2022 where pilots who fly a non CE marked drone will be able to operate in the A2 subcategory under the transitional provisions.

After the transitional period if you are still operating these ‘legacy’ aircraft then you will be able to fly in the A3 subcategory (fly far from people). which means no uninvolved people can be present and you cannot fly within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.

What to do if I haven’t got an A2 CofC?

PfCO holders beyond December 2020 can operate as normal under the terms of the permission, until their 12-month renewal date. This means ‘legacy’ aircraft, such as the DJI Mavic 2 or Inspire 2, can be operated under your standard permissions.

GVC – General Visual Line of Sight Certificate

The GVC is the general VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) Certificate and covers the competency requirements to be able to apply for a Operational Authoristation from the CAA and includes drone operations in the middle tier ‘specific’ category. The GVC comprises of similar elements as the course to obtain a PfCO including Ground School Theory and assessment, a practical flight test and an Operations Manual which includes the applicable pre-defined risk assessments. Following successful completion of the course candidates will receive their GVCcertificates and a recommendation which are valid for 5 years from issue.

These Certificates can be used to apply to the CAA for an Operational Authorisation that that is valid for a year from issue.


I’ve already got a PfCO, where do I go from here?

Continue to renew you PfCO, when you renew it, it will turn into an operational authorisation. By the 1st of January 2023, you won’t need to sit the >GVC you will just continue renewing your PfCO.

As an active PfCO holder, can I get free training through Coptrz? 

Anyone who undertook their PfCO or COP-SU course with us after September 2019 will get their A2 CofC for free. The course will be fully online. Get in touch to find out more information if you think this applies to you.

What is the process of obtaining a GVC?

It will take you around a month to obtain it. You will be learning at Coptrz Academy who will guide you through the process. You will need to produce an operations manual, theory test, carry out a flight test and complete the online study.

Can I still operate on PfCO?

Yes, as long as it is valid. Ensure you renew it.

In A1 sub cat of Open Cat (<250g), can I fly as close as I want to involved people? Or does the one-2-one rule still applies?
Where it mentions Anafi, it refers to below 500 grams, so you should observe the 1-2-1 rule. However, there is no horizontal rule. It is all about minimising the risk, think “how close do I need to fly?”
Would a single residence count as a congested/built-up area?
It depends where it is geographically. Is it a city, town or settlement used for commercial residential purposes? If it was one house completely isolated, and you obtained permission to fly then yes you could fly, providing you had everything under your control.
Any plans to deliver BVLOS training at Coptrz in 2022? 
Yes. Stay tuned – we have a few courses in the blueprint stages at the minute!

Still unsure about the UK Drone Laws?

If there is something you’re still unclear about, contact one of our team today and they will get any queries sorted out.

UK drone laws. UK drone laws. 




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