EU-wide drone regulations: The Open category explained

With the new European rules for drone pilots, the Open category was introduced, which is particularly interesting for hobby pilots. In this article, I explain what the Open category is about, what the different subcategories mean and which flight maneuvers will be possible in the future. You will also find information about the recognition of existing categories for EU residents and non-residents.

This article gives an outlook on the upcoming rules, but not all details for the practical implementation of the EU regulation have been clarified yet. The national authorities have time until the regulations come into force to clarify the open questions. Until then, the article does not claim to be complete. For a better understanding, you should definitely read the overview article on the European drone laws first.

The Open category includes flight maneuvers that represent only a low risk for other people. For such operations, you do not need to obtain permission from an authority.

In order for your operation to fall into the Open category, the following requirements must be met:

  • The drone falls into a defined drone class or was privately manufactured or was placed on the market before 01.01.2023.
  • The drone weighs less than 25 kilograms.
  • The drone flight takes place at a safe distance from persons and not above crowds.
  • The flight takes place within visual line of sight or with an observer beside you for FPV flights.
  • No dangerous goods are transported.
  • No objects are dropped from the aircraft.
  • The maximum flight altitude is 120 meters.
  • If an artificial obstacle (e.g. tower, wind turbines etc.) is higher than 120 meters, the responsible authority can increase the maximum allowed flight altitude by up to 15 meters.
  • The minimum age is normally 16 years, although the states can reduce it to 12 years.

UAV operators must register in the Open category in most cases. Click here for information about the registration of drones and copter pilots.

The Open category is again divided into three subcategories, to which additional rules apply. If your project cannot be covered by any of the following categories, your flight will fall into the Specific category or into the Certified category.

Subcategory A1

Permitted flight maneuvers:

  • No flying over crowds
  • For drones with C1 markings: Avoid overflight over uninvolved persons, if unexpectedly persons do show up, then make overflight as short as possible.
  • In Follow-Me mode, distance is not further than 50 meters.

Permitted aircraft:

  • Self-built drones with less than 250 grams total mass and maximum speed of 19 m/s
  • Industrially manufactured drones with less than 250 grams take-off mass, if they were first sold before 01.01.2023
  • Class C0 drones
  • Class C1 drones

Required qualification:

  • Pilot has studied the user manual extensively
  • For class C1 drones: Participation in an online course, which must be successfully completed with a theory test.

Subcategory A2

Permitted flight maneuvers:

  • A horizontal distance of at least 30 meters must be maintained to uninvolved persons. Rule of thumb: The horizontal distance to uninvolved persons should be equal to the flight altitude. This distance can be reduced to 5 meters if necessary if the drone is operated in a “slow flight mode” which allows a maximum flight speed of 3 m/s (10.8 km/h).
  • No overflight of uninvolved persons is allowed.

Permitted aircraft:

  • Class C2 drones

Required qualifications:

  • Pilot has studied the user manual extensively
  • Remote pilot certificate (online theory training, self-study on conditions for A3 and submission of an appropriate declaration and further theory examination)

Subcategory A3

Permitted flight maneuvers:

  • Endangerment of uninvolved persons must be excluded after reasonable discretion. (e.g. no flights in city centers).
  • Horizontal distance of 150 meters to residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas

Permitted aircraft:

  • Privately manufactured drones with a maximum weight of 25 kg
  • Industrially manufactured drones with less than 25 kilograms take-off mass, if they were first sold before July 1, 2023
  • Class C0 drones
  • Class C1 drones
  • Class C2 drones
  • Class C3 drones
  • Class C4 drones

Required qualifications:

  • Pilot has studied the user manual extensively
  • Participation in an online course, which must be successfully completed with a theory test.

What do the terms “uninvolved persons” and “crowds” mean?

According to the European Aviation Safety Agency, the term “crowd” is not defined by a number of people. Instead, the criterion is whether individuals can move around within the group freely enough to escape a drone out of control. As an example, it cites sports, cultural, political and religious events, beaches and parks on a sunny day, shopping streets during store opening hours and ski resorts, tracks and lanes.

In Europe, the term “uninvolved” is understood to mean a person who is not involved in a drone maneuver or who is unaware of the operator’s instructions and safety precautions. Persons in buses or cars also belong to this group, as they can potentially be endangered by the drone.

As an example, typical “uninvolved persons” are considered: Spectators at sporting events, concerts, and other major events and people on the beach, in parks, or pedestrians on the street.

Examples for typical “uninvolved persons” are spectators at sporting events, concerts, and other major events and people on the beach, in the park, or pedestrians on streets.

“Involved persons” are therefore people who decide to participate in the maneuver, understand the risk, check the position of the drone, and can get to safety in an emergency. This includes a declaration of consent and a briefing by the operator.

Recognition of certificates

If you already have a certificate of competency from a member state, it will remain valid for one year. Be aware that this old certificate may not be recognized in other EU countries, unlike the new EU certificate. From 1 January 2022, you will need a certificate according to the EU regulation. Your old one may be converted into an EU-recognized certificate but this depends on your country.

Information for non-EU residents

Currently, your certificate obtained in a country which does not follow the EU regulation, will not be accepted. The reason is that there is no mutual recognition agreement between the European Aviation Safety Agency and other countries. This means you will have to undergo training according to the subcategory you want to fly in.

Are there any questions left unanswered? Then write to us in the comments and we will try to help you as much as possible.

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