Can DJI Drones Be Retrospectively CE Class Marked?

Can DJI Drones Be Retrospectively CE Class Marked?

Current DJI drones could receive retrospective CE class markings to enable pilots to enjoy greater freedoms under new European drone laws.

14 minute read

Will DJI drones be retrospectively marked?

UPDATE: This article, originally published in November 2020, has been updated to reflect the new drone laws, which started at the end of 2020 in the UK and throughout Europe. 

Current DJI drones could receive retrospective CE class markings to enable pilots to enjoy greater freedoms under new European drone laws.

The global UAS manufacturer has hinted at the possibility of updating its existing products to make them compliant with the soon-to-be-introduced CE class identification system.

If this happens, it would open up more opportunities for pilots under the new rules; for instance, allowing them to fly closer to people without needing a standard permission.

New CE Markings For Drones

Under the rules, which started in the UK and throughout Europe on December 31, 2020, pilots of drones with these new CE class markings (C0-C4) will be able to benefit from less stringent operational requirements, such as reduced separation distances from uninvolved people.

This is especially true for people flying in the new Open Category.

What Is The Open Category?

The Open Category is divided into three specific subcategories, dictating how you can fly:

A1: Fly over people
A2: Fly close to people
A3: Fly far from people

New classes of drones (C0-C4) have been introduced, based on weight and other factors.

Certain classes of drone can be operated in certain subcategories - as shown by the table below.

However, no drones with these classes currently exist.

Therefore, a Transitional Period is currently running until the end of December 31, 2022, to give manufacturers a chance to introduce drones relating to the new class guidelines.

This means you can continue to operate your current DJI drones, but under certain operational requirements - as shown by the table below. Click on the table to enlarge it for a better look.

As part of the Open Category, an A2 CofC is needed in some cases. This can be obtained with Heliguy, through the online elearning portal.

 

What Do CE Class-marked Drones Allow Me To Do?

Operators flying drones with CE class markings will enjoy enhanced flight freedom in the Open Category.

For instance, a C0 drone can be flown over uninvolved people (not crowds), without needing operational permission.

Likewise, C2 drones can be flown up to 30m from uninvolved people - or up to 5 metres in low-speed mode - without needing operational permission.

This opens huge possibilities for drone pilots.

The table below shows what you can do with each class-rated aircraft.

Please note that, for all of these classes in the Open Category, flights must not exceed 400ft (120m), can not drop articles, cannot carry dangerous goods, and must be VLOS.

CE Class Open Subcategory Operating Areas Mass/KE/Speed Registration Competency
C0 A1 Fly over uninvolved people, but not over crowds. <250g maximum take off mass (MTOM) and ≤19m/s. Only if camera equipped (but not toys) Read user manual
C1 A1 No intentional flight over uninvolved persons. <900g MTOM or <80 Joules Yes • User manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
C2 A2

Can also be used in A3
No closer than 30m horizontally from uninvolved persons.

No closer than 5m in 'low speed' mode.
<4kg MTOM Yes • User manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
• A2 CofC, including theory test and self-practical training
C3 A3 No uninvolved people present within the area of flight.

No flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.
<25kg MTOM Yes • User Manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
C4 A3 No uninvolved people present within the area of flight.

No flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.
<25kg MTOM Yes • User Manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test

 

However, because the standards for these CE class markings have not yet been set, there are currently no drones on the market which have these ratings.

Therefore, a Transitional Period is currently running until the end of December 31, 2022, to give manufacturers the chance to develop aircraft in accordance with the new standards.

Importantly, this means that current drones, without a CE class identification, can still be flown - subject to some operational limitations.

In the Open Category, these include:

Subcategory Operating Area Mass/KE/Speed Operating Date Limitations Registration Competency
A1 Transitional No intentional flight over uninvolved people 250g - 500g flying weight, such as DJI Spark. Not after December 31, 2022 Yes • User Manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
• A2 CofC, including theory test and self-practical training
A2 Transitional No closer than 50m horizontally from uninvolved people <2kg flying weight, such as Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom, and Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 Not after December 31, 2022 Yes • User Manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test
• A2 CofC, including theory test and self-practical training
A3 Transitional No uninvolved people present within the area of flight

No flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.
>2kg to <25kg of flying weight, such as Inspire 2, M200 Series, M300 RTK, M600 Pro. (However, an Operational Authorisation will likely be used for these aircraft to fly in Specific Category).

Also applies to A1/A2 Transitional where operator does not have an A2 CofC.
Not after December, 31, 2022 Yes • User manual
• Online training
• Online (foundation) test

As things stand, non-CE-class-marked drones will become 'legacy' aircraft at the end of the Transitional Period.

The DJI Inspire 2.

While this will not make current aircraft obsolete, it will restrict the majority of them to the A3 subcategory of the Open Category, come January 1, 2023.

Or to put it another way, flights conducted in the Open Category with non-CE class labelled drones can only be conducted far from people.

The exception is the Mavic Mini and Mini 2. As long as their standard flying weight is under 250g, they can fly in the A1 subcategory (fly over people but not crowds) indefinitely and pilots will not require an A2 CofC. But if their flying weight exceeds 250g, fly by the rules of the A1 Transitional (with A2 CofC) or A3 Transitional (without A2 CofC).

The DJI Mini 2 can be flown in the A1 subcategory indefinitely.

To try to stop the majority of its current drones being restricted to the A3 subcategory come January 1, 2023, and to enable pilots to enjoy greater flight freedoms under the new laws, DJI has outlined a strategy to retrospectively CE mark its existing aircraft.

What Has DJI Said?

In a blog article, DJI set out its vision to retroactively mark its drones.

The manufacturer stated: "Although current drones on the market cannot simply be retroactively marked, they can go through a process that will verify they are compliant with the new requirements and will transform it legally to a ‘new’ product.

"We are assessing this possibility for existing products."

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK.

DJI added that it is currently working with industry bodies, regulators and authorities to help shape the European standards which the CE class markings are based on, and the subsequent compliance process for this regulation.

DJI stated: "Once the standards have been confirmed by the regulatory authorities and notified bodies are in place, we will work on assuring compliance for relevant products accordingly and publish a list on our website that shows which products will be included in retroactive CE class identification labelling."

Addressing how this could be done, DJI said: "For confirmed products, this will require a hardware and/or firmware upgrade (still to be decided!) which will have to be performed by DJI or certain authorised dealers.

"Customers may do this upgrade themselves but the manufacturer needs to set up a controlled process with a verification through a notified body (still to be decided!)."

How Would This Affect Me?

If DJI can bring in the retrospective markings, it will be a big plus for drone users, especially pilots flying in the Open Category.

Take the Mavic 2 Pro, for example.

Pilots of the Mavic 2 Pro would benefit from the drone being retrospectively CE marked.

Currently, it is not a CE-class marked aircraft, so as it stands, the drone falls into one of two Open subcategories as of December, 31, 2020.

These are:

A2 (Transitional Provisions) - Fly Close To People: Fly up to 50m horizontally from uninvolved people. However, pilots need an A2 CofC for this. From January 1, 2023, after the Transitional Period ends, this aircraft would need to be flown in the A3 subcategory (fly far from people).

A3 (Transitional) - Fly Far From People: If you DO NOT hold an A2 CofC, you will be bound by stricter rules, adhering to the A3 subcategory of the Open Category. These are: No uninvolved people present within the area of flight; no flight within 150m horizontally of residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational areas.

However, if the Mavic 2 Pro can obtain retrospective CE class identification, things would change significantly.

Under the new rules, the Mavic 2 Pro would likely receive a C2 marking. For pilots with an A2 CofC, this would mean:

  • Fly up to 30m horizontally of uninvolved people, or up to 5m in 'low-speed mode'
  • This freedom would not expire at end of Transitional Period

There could even be a chance that a drone like the Mavic 2 Pro could achieve C1 status - subject to some tweaks - giving pilots even more freedom.

So, there are clear benefits for DJI to push ahead with retrospective markings.

What Has The CAA Said About Retrospective Drone Markings?

DJI's vision is promising for drone operators, especially those flying aircraft such as the Mavic 2 Pro or Zoom, and Mavic Air 2 in the Open Category.

The DJI Mavic Air 2.

And it appears that the CAA has left the door open for this to happen.

In CAP 1789, the CAA states: "In order to be given a particular Class marking, the aircraft must have been designed and manufactured to the relevant standards of that class marking.

"The only way you can get an aircraft with a CE class marking is to buy one that has this marking."

This would appear to suggest that if DJI can make existing drones compliant with the new Class system, then there's every chance that retrospective marking can proceed.

And as we know, DJI is working with the relevant authorities to shape this criteria; perhaps a telling clue of what the future holds.

But, the CAA does say that existing drones can't just become Class marked by their weight alone; so in this sense, CE Class markings do not work retrospectively.

As CAP 1789 states: 'A current 3kg aircraft, for example, will never become a C2 model; it will only ever be a legacy unmanned aircraft that weighs 3kg.".

Heliguy approached the press office at EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) for a comment on retrospective class marking, but did not receive a reply.

A list of FAQs about the new drone laws can be found on the EASA website.

Does My Drone Need To Be CE Classed To Operate Commercially?

One of the major changes under the new rules is the removal of the terms 'commercial' and 'non-commercial'.

Or to put it another way, you will not necessarily need an Operational Authorisation (which has replaced the old PfCO) if you want to conduct a flight for money-making purposes.

This is because certain 'commercial' flights can be conducted within the criteria of the Open Category.

In fact, the new rules open up greater possibilities for 'commercial' operations; as operators can perform missions in the Open Category without needing a standard permission.

This will be ideal for jobs such as wind-turbine inspections and real-estate photography.

However, for pilots wanting/needing to fly outside the operational limitations of the Open Category, a GVC is required to apply for an Operational Authorisation to operate in the Specific Category. A GVC course can be completed with Heliguy.

Pilots will need to obtain a GVC for certain commercial work

What Is The Specific Category?

The Specific Category is for operations that cannot be performed or present a greater risk than the Open Category.

As a general rule of thumb, this applies to the majority of enterprise pilots.

Specific Category operations follow similar requirements/permissions afforded by the former PfCO, to become known as an Operational Authorisation.

Under the new drone regulations, there are three category tiers; the Open; Specific; and then the Certified, which is for the most complex of missions and present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation.

What Is The GVC And How Do I Get It?

The GVC is a remote pilot competency certificate which provides a single qualification that is suitable for VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) operations within the Specific Category.

The Specific Category hinges on an Operational Authorisation being held by the drone operator, which has been issued by the CAA, before the operation can be commenced.

The Operational Authorisation – which has replaced the term PfCO – is based upon a risk assessment that is completed by the UAS operator, or through a series of Pre-Defined Risk Assessments (PDRA).

The GVC can be augmented by a number of additional modules, such as EVLOS, which will be released at a later date. Heliguy will release more information about these bolt-on modules soon.

The GVC, along with any additional modules that are attached to it, is valid for a period of five years.

You can obtain a GVC with Heliguy by completing the theory training online, and completing an Operations Manual and passing a practical flight assessment. Find out more by clicking here.

 

Therefore, for the time being, a drone without a CE class marking can be used for commercial operations, as long as it is flown in accordance with the laws.

But, drones without a CE class marking which are being flown in the Open Category will have to be flown in the A3 subcategory at the end of the Transition Period - except for drones under 250g.

CE Class Markings v CE Markings

This article has focused on the new CE Class Markings for drones.

To clarify, these markings are not currently on any drone.

Furthermore, they are not to be confused with the more common administrative CE markings, which indicate that a product conforms with health, safety, and environmental protection standards within the European Economic Area.

The CE class identification markings are not to be confused with the CE administrative markings.

So, once the new rules begin, drones will still need to have the existing CE marking requirements, while manufacturers will no doubt rush to create drones which are compliant with the new CE class markings - based on different mandatory safety requirements.

For the record, DJI products are already CE-compliant, in the administrative sense.

DJI states: "Our products tick all the boxes in terms of compliance, including relevant or applicable EU CE directives, meaning that they will not require extensive interventions such as product modifications.

"DJI is currently working with industry bodies, regulators and authorities, to help shape the European standards the CE marking is based on and the compliance process for this regulation."

DJI Ecosystem Already Safe

One of the key takeaways from this article is that DJI products can still be flown under the new drone laws.

And as a market leader, DJI has driven innovation to set high standards designed to meet EASA's ambition of air safety.

The M300 RTK is DJI's safest drone to date.

For instance, numerous DJI drones include the following features:

  • Remote Identification: Broadcast location, altitude speed, direction of the drone, location of pilot, and drone ID number by special receivers developed for safety and security authorities.
  • AirSense (ABS-B Receiver): Allows drone pilots to spot other aircraft nearby.
  • Geofencing: Restricts DJI drones from flying near sensitive locations, such as airports, for pilots without the necessary permits or authorisations.
  • Obstacle Avoidance and Smart Return To Home: Automatically senses and avoids obstacles, and returns to take-off point before batteries are exhausted.
  • Redundant Systems (M300 RTK): The M300 RTK features an extra IMU barometer and compass. They will come online if the primary unit fails. It also has dual battery configuration so if one battery dies, the other battery can still safely power the drone to land safely.
  • Omnidirectional Collision Avoidance (M300 RTK): Six direction dual visual and dual time-of-flight sensors enables the drone to have omnidirectional collision avoidance feature to better sense and avoid obstacles.

CE Class Markings - Conclusion

Innovators, trailblazers, industry leaders: if there are any words to describe DJI, then this trio certainly fit the bill.

And, perhaps, true to form, DJI may well be leading the way again, this time paving the way for retrospective drone marking under the new drone laws.

A breakthrough in this department would certainly be beneficial for the drone manufacturer and operators, alike.

The fact that DJI is playing a key role in talks on this subject is telling, and their standing in the drone industry will no doubt carry substantial sway.

Certainly DJI's recent rhetoric indicates that retrospective drone marking is a serious possibility.

After all, DJI's product eco-system has the safety record and sophisticated features to comply with the requirements of the new class criteria.

As a trusted DJI partner, Heliguy believes retrospective drone marking would be beneficial - as long as each drone meets the requirements - and will do what we can to support this and shape any necessary standards.


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