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If Brexit weren’t enough to worry about, the unmanned aircraft world is being tipped upside down too.

January 1st sees the implementation of new drone regulations across Europe, and an attempt to bring some harmonisation to what has historically been a disparate regulatory environment.

In a series of posts, we’ll be looking at the key challenges and opportunities for those intending to operate drones under the new regulations.

So, what is the new A2CofC, or A2 Certificate of Competence, and should you get one? 

In short, the A2CofC is a more accessible and cost-effective  training option for those looking to fly in the new ‘Open’ category of drone operations, specifically the A2 sub-category. Training is reduced from roughly two days to just half a day, and there is no mandatory flight assessment. Unsurprisingly, it’s also considerably cheaper to obtain. 

Sounds good – why doesn’t everyone just fly under A2CofC? Naturally, there are some drawbacks. Most importantly, A2 flying is currently limited to aircraft weighing less than 2kg. This will change with the arrival of new machines carrying the ‘C2’ conformity mark, expected during 2021, as these will allow A2 flying up to 4kg. 

Whilst these newer C2 aircraft will, in some circumstances, be able to reduce lateral separation from ‘uninvolved’ persons to as little as 5m, there is another key limitation in the CAA’s A2 guidance: the so-called 1-to-1 concept. For a flight to be deemed safe, any increase in height must be matched by an increase in lateral separation. So, an aircraft at 10m must be 10m away from uninvolved persons, 50m at 50m and so on. Many operators will find this quite limiting. 

One other important issue to consider is insurance. With such a limited pool both of insurers and insured, it seems that the market is currently very sensitive to risk in the A2 sub-category with its limited operator training. Premiums for A2CofC holders are, at present, likely to be higher than for the same equipment operated by GVC holders. How this develops will be a key driver of the A2 training market. 

For many organisations, the key decision will be in relation to how drone operations are managed. The A2CofC is solely a pilot qualification. As such, it’s ideal for sole traders who are free of the complications of sharing equipment and agreeing procedures across a team.

The GVC, in contrast, is supported by a mandatory Operations Manual detailing company policies. Companies wanting oversight of multiple operators will doubtless feel reassured by this more robust framework. Indeed, they are likely to continue to demand it.

To conclude, the A2 sub-category definitely marks a sea change in accessibility for those entering the market. Whatever your European views, for once the regulators have moved with the times and recognised that a risk-based legislative environment can and should bring benefits to the end user.