Certificate and remote ID now required to fly drones in Europe

Starting January 1st, 2024, new requirements in the European Union will come into effect, reshaping how small drones may be operated in the region. According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), with limited exceptions, even small drone pilots will require a certificate and registration, and drones must be equipped with a remote identification system.

According to the EASA, drones starting from 900 grams in take-off mass (class identification labels from C1 to C6) are already equipped with a remote identification system, which transmits identification information such as the drone’s serial number, operator registration number, remote pilot position or, if not available, take-off point, and the drone’s location. These drones are mostly used for leisure activities and low-risk commercial activities.

The new changes affect open-category drones, which are smaller or older.

“After January 1st, 2024, only drones equipped with a remote identification system, updated with the UAS (drone) operator registration number, will be allowed to operate. States may identify geographical zones where remote identification is not mandatory,” the EASA publication reads.

No training will be required for toy drones and those that are under 250 grams and have no camera or sensors on board. Those fall into the C0 category, for which a minimum remote pilot age of 16 is required unless the drone is a toy.

For drones under 900 grams, the pilot must complete the online training and pass online theoretical exams. Larger drones require special remote pilot certificates, practical training, and passing an exam.

Privately built drones and drones placed on the market before 2024 must also not overfly uninvolved people, maintain a horizontal distance of 150m from uninvolved people and urban areas, and maintain flight altitude below 120m above ground level.

Requirements for drone pilots

Remote pilots can obtain an EU drone license starting from around €50-€100 online, with the certificate valid for 5 years. The EASA is aware that some illegal websites are selling fake certificates of training: “Please trust only the providers of training and exams that are listed on the NAA website.”

All remote pilots need to register themselves unless the drone weighs less than 250g and has no camera or other sensor able to detect personal data, or it’s a small drone that complies with a ‘toy’ directive.

According to the EASA, open-category drone operators need to register themselves in the EU Member State where they have their residence for natural persons or where they have their principal place of business for legal persons. Third-country operators need to register in the first EASA Member State in which they perform an operation.

Old drones must be retrofitted with remote ID

All drones in the EU will be required to operate with an active and up-to-date Remote identification (RID) system. There are two ways to satisfy this condition: flying a C-class drone with RID built-in or retrofitting older drone models with an RID module attached to the drone body.

“Remote identification (RID) technologies allow authorities and any member of the public to identify drones remotely using a smartphone app or dedicated receiver,” Dronetag, an RID manufacturer, which covers 70% of RID device supplies in the US, explained in a press release. “The main goal of RID adoption is to enhance the safety of unmanned aircraft systems operations.”

RID transmitters can attached to the old drone body. According to Lukas Brchl, CEO of Dronetag, pilots should not ignore the upcoming change.

“To avoid problems that framed the start of RID in the USA earlier this year, drone operators should get their RID module in advance if they want to use their drones in 2024 safely. The production capacities of all suppliers are limited, so my only advice is to act now. Dronetag team put immense effort into scaling production to the maximum, but we already accept orders with deliveries at the end of January 2024,” Brchl said.

For small drones, he recommends using Direct RID modules, which transmit identification data via Bluetooth to the drone's nearby surroundings.

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