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Don't buy a C class drone yet: UK abandons new drone classes

Image: DJI.
2 minute read
Image: DJI.

It was all looking so promising, with EU-wide drone regulations, including adoption by a post-Brexit UK, simplifying drone usage. But now the CAA and DfT has rolled back on their commitments, throwing some drone operators under the bus in the process.

Drones have always been contentious, with a pretty even split between those who love them, and those who think they are the devil in quadcopter form. Regardless of your opinion of them, they're here to stay.

In days of yore, using a drone for commercial purposes, ie even if you captured some images in return for a coffee, was a minefield of paper work and assessment passing. Not to mention a yearly fee and the regular updating of an operations manual. The CAA used to treat drone pilots like real pilots, and it was all a bit silly. I'm all for safe operation, but contending with all of that within the limited scope for work was untenable.

Then the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency), the EU equivalent of the CAA, got together to devise new categories of drone. Importantly, the distinction between somebody using a drone for commercial use and an amateur was eliminated. The CAA was all on board for the new categories of use, and entered a transition period. This was required because no drone manufacturer had yet produced a drone that was certified to the new certifications. I went into detail about the new classifications here.

This year saw the release of the first ever CE certified drone, the Mavic 3 Classic, which under the new regulations is rated as a C1 device. This would mean you could fly in the A1 sub class, allowing much greater freedom where you could take your drone, greatly simplifying things for professional use.

Since the CAA had committed to adopting the new EU categories, to great fanfare I might add, once the Mavic 3 Classic was released many people bought it with the new regulations in mind, except...

In the past few days, the Department for Transport (DfT) decided to throw a gigantic bucket of ice cold water over the idea. It has now decided that the new EU class marks on drones will no longer be recognised after 1st January 2023. Pilots can still fly drones with those class marks in the Open and Specific categories, but they cannot take advantage of the A1, A2 or A3 subcategories of use as defined by the EU regulations. Instead, the Department for Transport wants to extend the transition period until 2026 for 'consultation'.

What does this mean?

In a nutshell it means that UK drone pilots are going to be greatly restricted in how they can fly vs mainland Europeans. The only way that a UK pilot can currently fly with any degree of freedom right now, and until 2026, is to use a sub 250g micro drone like the Mavic Mini. And while the Mavic Mini can produce very nice imagery, there are those that prefer the option of its larger sensor cousins, not to mention the ability to fly in stronger winds.

Once again UK drone users lose out to governmental dithering. What would have been a very easy to follow system that worked well for everyone has now been thrown into complete uncertainty.

Tags: Business Drones