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2023 Drone Regulations Made Easy – The Essential Guide

10Feb2023

Drone regulations can be confusing. In this article we break down the latest regulations in an easy to understand way so you can be confident you are compliant.

Anybody with an interest in drone flying will almost certainly have heard about the recent changes to drone regulations and the requirement for some form of qualification. Whether you are a commercial pilot, fly for fun, or are thinking about getting into drone flying, it’s important to stay up to date with the law. 

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are always working with the interest of the public in mind. Their main focus is a duty of care to uninvolved persons. This was reflected in the regulations changes that were introduced back in 2021.  

What do I need to get started? 

The basic requirement for most Drone Pilots is to gain a FLYER ID from the CAA. This is a simple online tutorial followed by a 40 question tick test. 

The Open Category

The Open Category was designated for ‘No or Low risk operations’ of drones with regard to uninvolved persons and principally based on the drones being operated in this category holding a UK class rating.

Class Ratings – Originally intended to be introduced in 2023 these do not come into effect in the UK until 2026 now so the information below refers to the CAA’s ‘Legacy’ and ‘Transitional’ arrangements only.

This Flyer ID gives you 2 initial qualifications to get you started in the Open Category. 

The A1 and A3 open Category qualifications

With the A1 qualification this will entitle you to fly a drone that weighs less than 250g in the A1 ‘Over’ Category. This is why drones such as the DJI Mini 3 have been so popular as they come in at just under 250g and can be flown in congested areas and over uninvolved persons. Typical uses include:

  • Urban Structural Surveys – Condition reports on hard to reach places
  • Media and Marketing Imagery – Property Sales / Events
  • Roofing surveys to reduce costs on Scaffold and Cherry Pickers

The CAA’s online FLYER ID Tutorial will advise you on the basic regulations and inform you of where you can and can’t fly.

The A3 ‘Far From’ category  

This qualification is also issued with the FLYER ID. This category covers the more general types of unmanned aircraft operations and is available for larger, heavier drones weighing up to 25kg. As you can imagine these could potentially cause harm if they were to impact uninvolved persons.. These unmanned aircraft may only be flown in areas where no uninvolved person may be endangered by the unmanned aircraft, and may not be flown within 150 metres horizontally of areas that are used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes. Hence this is labelled the ‘Far From’ category. You must keep an absolute minimum horizontal distance of 50m from any uninvolved persons however there is additional guidance which advises that whatever height you are flying your drone (I.E 60m) then you should fly at least (60+m) horizontally away from uninvolved persons.

A2 Certificate of Competence / ‘Close to’ Category

This qualification was predominantly aimed at drones that had a class rating but as these aren’t now being introduced into the UK until 2026 so the qualification has its limitations until then.  The qualification requires the remote pilot to undertake theoretical lessons in:

  • Meteorology
  • UAS Flight Performance
  • UAS Operating Procedures

There is also a short theoretical exam to pass and you must complete a period of practical flight training, either under the guidance of an Recognised Assessment Entity (I.E An accredited training academy such as ourselves) or under ‘self-monitored’ circumstances.

So with this qualification you can fly 2 types of drones (with a transitional arrangement allowed by the CAA) in congested areas:

  • Drones up to 500 g can be flown in the A1 ‘over’ sub category but you should not fly over uninvolved persons. 
  • Drones up to 2 kg can be flown in a congested area but you must keep a minimum of 50m horizontally away from uninvolved persons. Anyone who has operated a drone in a congested area where members of the public are present will understand how restrictive this can be. Examples of these drones include:

As you may notice with the Open Category it can be quite restrictive in terms of what you can do within residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas. This is where the General Visual Line of Sight Certificate comes in. 

General Visual Line of Sight Certificate (GVC)

The GVC sits within the Specific Category.

The Specific category covers operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category, or where one or more elements of the operation fall outside the boundaries of the Open category. The key element of the Specific category is that the UAS operator is required to hold an operational authorisation, which has been issued by the CAA. 

The standard authorisation which is termed a Pre-defined Risk Assessment (UKPDRA01) allows for operations within congested areas with any drone up to 25kg with the stipulation that:

No flight within 50 metres of any uninvolved person, except that during take-off and landing this distance may be reduced to 30 metres. The 50m is not a horizontal distance as per the Open A2 Category. 

No flight within 50 metres horizontally of any assemblies of people.

Further Clarification from the CAA states:

Remote pilots must not permit overflight of assemblies of people. 

Any overflight of uninvolved persons must be kept to a minimum, and the remote pilot shall reduce as much as possible the time during which the unmanned aircraft overflies those persons.

In simpler terms, your Operational Authorisation would allow you to fly in congested areas with drones weighing up to 25 kg. This is because the GVC course is much more in depth and includes a practical flight assessment to ensure you have the skillset to operate a drone safely in and around uninvolved persons to the limits detailed above.

In our opinion, with the drones that are available on the market, this is the qualification that any commercial operator should go for. We label this as the ‘future proof’ qualification as it isn’t restricted at all by drones needing a class rating like the open category and you do not have weight restrictions bands to work around.

If you think flying a drone may be difficult then we have integrated practical training into our course design and our GVC course will provide at least 2 hours of professional practical flying training. Not only do you get the theory qualification but you will leave with the confidence to practise your drone flying in a safe manner.

Information on flying drones safely from the CAA

How to stay up to date with UK Drone Regulations

To begin flying drones, everybody must obtain a Flyer ID. You can get this by doing an online course with the CAA. Your Flyer ID allows you to fly a very lightweight, low-risk drone weighing less than 250g. You can fly a drone anywhere other than over assemblies of people, flight restriction zones and restricted areas. You can also fly anything up to 25kg 150m away from a congested area. 

Once you have your flyer ID, you’re able to complete your A2 certificate of competence, and/or your GVC certificate depending on your requirements. We at Drone Pilot Academy (DPA)  always recommend our 3-day course because it’s valid for 5 years, and if you upgrade your drone (drones for sale here) you already have the necessary qualifications to operate it. 

Drone Certification LevelAllowancesDuration/Format
CAA online course (Flyer ID)Fly a drone weighing less than 250g anywhere except assemblies of people, flight restriction zones, and restricted areas. Fly anything up to 25kg 150m away from a congested area.Online
A2 Certificate of CompetenceFly any drone up to 2kg in a congested area but no closer than 50m to uninvolved persons. Fly a drone less than 500g in a congested area, close to people but not directly over their heads.In-person
GVC General Visual Line of SightAs above, and fly any drone up to 25kg in a congested area.In-person, 3 days

Take a look at the range of courses offered by the Drone Pilot Academy or call Chris to discuss your training requirements. 

Why is it important to stay up to date with the latest CAA drone regulations?

For commercial and leisure drone pilots, it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest regulations from the CAA because first and foremost, drone regulations are the official law, meaning that lack of compliance makes you legally liable and at risk of penalties from the police and court. 

Another huge consideration of drone regulations in the UK is safety and privacy. 

Regulations often address safety concerns to the general public, so maintaining proper training, equipment upgrades, and staying up to date with flight restrictions ensures safe drone operation. Similarly, the CAA regulates privacy concerns in regard to the collection and usage of data captured by drones. 

And on a lighter note, the drone industry is a growing force, and staying informed helps a pilot remain up-to-date and competitive in their career, giving them an edge against competitors. 

Drone Pilot FAQs

Who are the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)?

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is a regulator managing safety, airspace efficiency, environmental impact, security risks and protecting consumers. This is in regard to all aviation, including drones. The CAA provides drone operation permission, as well as general advice. 

What is PDRA-01?

PDRA stands for Pre-defined Risk Assessment. PDRA01 is a type of authorisation, granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly a drone, within specific limitations. Most people apply for the UK PDRA-01 as part of their Operational Authorisation from the CAA.

What is the minimum separation distance in flight from uninvolved persons under PDRA-01?

Maintain a minimum distance of 50 metres from any uninvolved persons at all times, as per the PDRA-01. This is with the exception of take-off and landing when the distance may be reduced to 30 metres.

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