The end of the world as we know it?.....Not quite!

Last Friday many of the industries National Qualified Entities gathered at Aviation House, the Gatwick Airport based headquarters of the Civil Aviation Authority to hear the shape of things to come.


Many industry pundits were predicting the end of the world with the demise of the ‘Permission for Commercial Operations’ authorization that has long been the industry standard, were they wrong? The answer (as we all suspected) was a resounding yes.


What happens to those who currently hold a PfCO or OSC and those who will gain one between now and Jun 30th, 2020?


Absolutely nothing! Holders of both the PfCO and OSC whose renewal date falls after June of next year will be grandfathered across to the new ‘Operational Authorisation’ and will enjoy all of the same rights and privileges as they currently do. And this will remain the case for as long as the standard permission or OSC is renewed.


What does the new system look like?


Under the new system, there are 3 different categories that flights will fall into being Open, Specific and Certified. The system will move away from the delineation of being commercial or hobbyist and will move to a risk-based model. And depending upon the level of risk, the capability of the aircraft and competency of the remote pilot each flight will fall into a particular category. Whatever category you are in remote pilots will need to register as operators (this includes the Mavic Mini as it has a camera and under EASA regs must be registered) and also take the online competency test to operate in any of the new categories.


The Open Category


Just to complicate things the Open Category has 3 sub-categories being A1, A2, and A3! Each sub-category also has a Pre Defined Risk Assessment that applies to it and which has to be met to operate within its auspices.


A1-Aircraft capable of being operated in this category are classed as ‘inherently harmless’ toys, less than 250g, or compliant with the new C0 product standard, flight over uninvolved persons is allowed but not over ‘assemblies of people’


A2- in the A2 category Flying ‘close to’ uninvolved people is permitted as close as 30m, or 5m in ‘low-speed mode’ if using the applicable CE standard of aircraft with specific noise and weight limits (which doesn’t exist yet and will not likely exist for around 18 months) An additional proof of competency is also required on top of the basic online test. This is to be carried out (in most cases) by RAE’s, the new name for NQE’s. This will consist of a 30-question test and a base level of flight training to ensure that operators are safe. This certification is the A2 Certificate of Competence already known as the A2 CofC. There is a provision for older aircraft to be operated within this category until 2022 but only at a separation distance of 50M with no overflight allowed.


A3-Flight far from the people-This category will encompass model aircraft and also legacy aircraft of between 2kg and 25kg. These aircraft will have to be flown 150m away from congested areas


There are also applicable aircraft standards to operate within these categories, but we will look at these in the next article! So what happens if what you’re doing doesn’t fit into the ‘Open Category’ Easy! You move in the ‘Specific’ category.


The Specific Category


The specific category is where operations are placed that cannot fit into the risk categories defined in the open category.


Operating in the specific category will require the operator to hold a GVC also known as a General VLOS Certificate. This will need to be obtained by attending a course with an RAE (formerly known as NQE’s) and completing a 2-3 day course, an operations manual and then a practical flight assessment (sound familiar) This is the “‘new version” of the PfCO and will allow the operator to function within the Specific category. Some operations will need to be authorized directly by the CAA. The GVC certificate will be a building block that you can bolt further competencies onto. Only one of these exists now and is aimed at EVLOS flight out to approximately 2KM.


Certified Category


The certified category is highly unlikely to be utilized by anyone other than large corporate operators such as Amazon, so we won’t cover that in this article.


So as you can see, a lot of change is on the way, and whilst this is not necessarily a bad thing we are expecting the numbers of people taking their PfCO or writing OSC’s to radically increase over the coming months. For some holding legacy privileges will be the right thing to do, however, this will not be the case for everyone!


Keep your eyes peeled for the next article where we will be examining the different categories of aircraft and how they relate to the Open and Specific categories.



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