New rules for drones from 2021 – you are affected

From January 1, 2021, new, EU common rules to apply to drone pilots. Both private individuals and professional users as well as manufacturers are affected when different types of drones are to be divided into entirely new categories, certificates of competence issued and training completed.

The new rules have been developed to strengthen the safety of the airspace with uniform guidelines, but also to prevent unknowing or involuntary people, objects of protection or activities from being caught or “mapped” when camera-mounted drones rush past far up there. At the same time, the goal is not to put a spanner in the wheel for the technical development of the drones. The rules are similar to those already in force in Sweden today, but are much more specific with weight limits, distance and so on.

How different drones should be classified has been an important question. On the one hand, they are divided into three categories: Open, specific and certified, with varying requirements on permits and risk analyzes. The vast majority of consumers and their drones will fall into the open category.

But next year, seven new ones will also be introduced certification classes – called C classes. Drones without C-class, which will be placed on the market after January 1, 2023, will only be allowed to fly with special permission from the Swedish Transport Agency or within the framework of a model flying club. The C classes range from C0 to C6 and include everything from spring-light toy variants to high-flying heavyweights with particularly stringent safety requirements.

In Sweden, the Swedish Transport Agency is responsible for ensuring that we comply with EU common rules. The authority has published lots of information about the various requirements and classifications that are being introduced, and will also publish the training that is required for you to obtain the correct qualification certificate. The theory tests will be published on January 4, 2021.

Rémi Vesvre
Photo: Liza SimonssonRémi Vesvre is a management strategist at the Swedish Transport Agency.

Actually, the new rules were supposed to apply already this summer, but due to the corona pandemic, the member states’ authorities and ministries have required additional time to implement them. The various transport and aviation plants have been forced to prioritize national aviation facilities. This is explained by the Swedish Transport Agency’s management strategist Rémi Vesvre.

He also states that precisely the work on the upcoming C-certification classes has dragged on over time – for example, they contain special requirements that different C-rated drones must be able to identify at a distance.

– At present, it is impossible for drone manufacturers to C-classify their products. The last puzzle piece for how they can be identified from a distance is not yet there. But six months go by quickly – and once the requirements for the different C-certification classes are published, manufacturers have little time to adapt. It will be tough, says Rémi Vesvre.

Transitional period of two years

To facilitate both pilots and manufacturers, the EU has decided on a “transitional period”. This runs from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022 and allows drone pilots to continue flying – but still under training requirements and with a number of restrictions depending on the drone.

And here it starts to get a little complicated. Let’s say you recently purchased a Mavic Air 2 from the popular drone manufacturer DJI. It is not C-rated and weighs 570 grams. According to the upcoming rules, an A3 drone card is required for you to fly during the transitional period. Mavic Air 2 is then allowed to “fly at a safe distance of at least 150 meters laterally from residential, commercial, industrial or recreational areas.” This is a major constraint on how the product may be used today. In addition, drones may not be C-rated afterwards.

Transition rules drone
transport Agency process map shows which transitional rules apply to your drone. (Pdf)

To alleviate the restrictions during the transition period, the A3 pilot can also obtain A2 certification by answering additional questions and “conducting related practice”. If the pilot complements A2 competence, Mavic Air 2 may instead fly at least 50 meters laterally from people, animals and property. But only during the transition period – after December 31, 2022, it is 150 meters distance that applies again.

One drone that fares much better is the Mavic Mini, also the one from DJI. Since it weighs 249 grams, it falls within the scope of the A1 (limited) subcategory. It may then be flown over individual individuals. According to me, they are allowed to fly no more than 50 meters laterally from the remote pilot.

“Would wait for a purchase”

The drones that are marketed and sold today will thus – almost completely without exception – have limited use opportunities within six months. And from 2023 it looks even darker, as the temporary A2 rules disappear. In the example of Mavic Air 2, it then falls within the A3 and again receives a distance requirement of 150 meters.

– Today I would definitely wait to spend more money on drones. Waiting half a year or a year for the picture to clear is my advice. Today, the life span of a medium-sized drone may be 3-4 years – much like a smartphone – so the risk is that you can’t use the one you intended for those years, says Rémi Vesvre.

A look among Swedish dealers shows that many links to the Swedish Transport Agency’s regulations for drones. However, they hardly signify that the product being sold will have limited use within six months. The non-reader who acquires a drone today is at risk of being negatively surprised.

Mavic Air 2
Mavic Air 2 weighs 570 grams and will require at least one A3 drone card from next year.

How big is the knowledge of the upcoming EU rules?
– In our measurements we notice an increased knowledge of existing users. At least the rules are in progress. What they then mean in concrete terms is that knowledge is not so great. We definitely see a need for the upcoming knowledge tests and certifications. At the end of the year, we will launch a broad campaign that informs about the rule changes and encourages the taking of drone cards, says Rémi Vesvre.

Regarding that manufacturers and retailers are not already releasing information about the restrictions, he says:

– At the moment they are not doing anything wrong, and hopefully the information will be better in the future. Once the new rules start to apply, both importers and distributors are obliged to inform the customers about what applies to their drones. But of course I think it’s a shame there are no such requirements already.

Johanna Persson is a supervisor at the Consumer Agency’s information service Hallå Consumer. She says that drone issues are usually referred to the Swedish Transport Agency because they are regulators.

– But this is something we have to keep an eye on and see if any notifications come in, and then make the assessment whether it falls under our supervision or not. Such cases could also be a matter of misleading marketing, if a company omits material information, but it is someone you can judge in a supervisory case in that case.

The new drone rules in short:

Responsible operator: Must be by all drone flying. Companies and private individuals register as such with the Swedish Transport Agency get a unique operator ID, and drones that require it must be labeled and programmed with one.

Missing C class: These drones can continue sold during the transition period (Jan 2021-Dec 2022), but also from 2023 onwards. But for the pilot, either the permit from the Swedish Transport Agency within the specific category is required or that flight takes place within the framework of a model airline club.

Remote Pilot: Whoever manages the flight itself. The drone is divided into the categories open, specific and certified, and requires a corresponding license to run. To obtain such, a theory test is required. Toy drones and extremely light vehicles are excluded.

Permission: Required only if the drone weighs over 25 kilos, “as long as you fly within sight, maximum 120 meters above the ground except over obstacles, and not over crowds”. Other permits may be required depending on what you are going to use the drone for, for example from the Land Survey for dissemination of pictures and video.

Limited flight: Applies in particularly sensitive airspace, such as prisons, nuclear power plants and military facilities. See the Civil Aviation Administration’s drone map.

Labeling of drones: All drones used within the EU must be CE marked. In addition, the new certification classes C0-C6 are added as a new requirement. Drones cannot be C-classed afterwards, but can continue to fly from 2023 within the restricted A1 or A3 categories if they do not have a C-class.

Transitional: For those of you who are currently flying a non-C-rated drone that falls within the open category, special rules apply between January 2021 – December 2022. You can find these here.

Source: Swedish Transport Agency