When you fly a drone you must follow the rules laid down in the EU drone regulation. This regulation classifies drones into various categories, taking into account their intended purpose and the potential risks they pose to individuals and other users of airspace, including passenger aircraft and rescue helicopters. One of the most important rule in the open category is to fly in VLOS (visual line of sight) and below 120 m. This height limit may be overridden in the open category only in very special circumstances such as a request from the owner of an obstacle (e.g a building) having a height of more than 105 m, to conduct an aerial work above it. In this case, the operator may fly up to 15 m above the obstacle. This exception is not allowed when operating a C0 drone.
You can find out more about the different drone classes and what this means for you and the drone you want to fly via the drone information notices page.
This article is specifically about the use of the smallest of drones, the C0 class. This was written to help clear up some concern that may have arisen by some operators when they found out some restrictions for this class of drone.
The basics of the C0 drone class
As previously mentioned, the EU drone regulation has been developed defining requirements proportionate to the risk of the operation and allowing some operations to be conducted without any pre-authorisation (i.e. open category). In some cases, this can also be without any training with the A1 subcategory of the open category when using a C0 drone.
For very small drones up to 250 g, these can sometimes be toys. However, sometimes they are sophisticated products, such as in the case of the DJI mini or similar products. It was considered that when the speed a drone can fly at is not very high (below 19 m/s) they pose a limited risk to persons. However, in case of impact with an aircraft (especially small aircraft or lighter than air aircraft such as hot balloons), this may be dangerous.
So in the A1 open subcategory, a major simplification was added when operating C0 drones, by having no requirement for training for remote pilots, no mandatory geoawareness, and no mandatory remote identification. This simplifies things a lot! However, such simplifications were compensated by more strict operational requirements such as the hard 120 m height limit. If we allow remote pilots using C0 drones to unlock the system and fly higher without an understanding of the possible risk, which is given during the A1/A3 online training, this has the potential to cause an accident. Moreover, a 250 g drone is normally very small. Most probably you are not able to see it (and so keep the VLOS) when it is at a distance of more than a few tens of meters. At a 120 m distance, you are not able to see it, and this is a very unsafe situation!
Why 120 m height?
Manned aircraft normally fly above 150 m, so the probability of encountering a manned aircraft above 120 m (we added a 30 m buffer) is much higher.
So operations in the open category should be limited to 120 m. However, as mentioned above, in very special circumstances, it is possible to unlock the 120 m height limitation, but this is not applicable to drones marked C0. In this case, the height must be limited to 120 m.
However, there is nothing to prevent a manufacturer from marking a drone less than 250 g as C1. In this case, remote pilots will be required to undergo the online training and they will be allowed to unlock the 12 0m. The training is considerably straightforward and it is really important to ensure that drone pilots are more aware of the responsibility they hold in their hands and the risks they might cause to other airspace users.
The main messages from this article:
- When operating in the open category, you need to keep the VLOS (visual line of sight) and fly at a height below 120 m.
- Such height limit may be overridden only if you have an explicit request from the owner of an obstacle (e.g. a building having a height more than 105 m) to fly above it for some aerial work (e.g. inspections).
- If you have a legacy drone, with a weight below 250 g, able to fly above 120 m, and you have the explicit request for the owner of the obstacle to fly higher than 120 m, then you should first complete the A1/A3 online required training.