Episode 2

Published on:

16th Jun 2022

The Drone classification consultation – your views and the next steps

Earlier this year we ran a consultation around proposals to delay the introduction of classifications for legacy and traditional category drones.

We received a fantastic level of responses from the drone community and in this episode Callum Holland from our RPAS team explains the conclusions we’ve now come to and our recommendation to Government for taking the issue forward.

You can read the consultation response document at https://www.caa.co.uk/cap2367


Voiceover 0:11

The latest drone updates from the UK CAA. This is the CAA drone safety podcast.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 0:21

Hello, everybody. And welcome back to our drone safety Podcast. I'm Jonathan Nicholson from the CAA communications team. And today we're going to be covering our decision that we've made following the consultation, we ran back in May on a proposed extension to the legacy and transition category for drones that are used in the open category. So just a reminder of what it was around. So when we inherited the European Union rules and stuff we'd put into the UK law as well, drones were supposed to move on the first of January '23, to class markings and new classifications. Now the reason we ran the consultation is we felt the UK wasn't ready to introduce that for a number of reasons the body that would oversee it and do the assessments isn't in place being one of the prime reasons. So Europe also had chosen to do a consultation on this as well as they also felt that they weren't in the right place. And they'd chosen to delay by a year. So we went out and did the consultation, as I say in May. Thank you to everybody that responded, we've had thousands of responses to this, a really good response, some really interesting views. And I'm pleased to say we've now come to a decision. So today we're going to go through what that means, what the decision is, and how it will impact drone owners in the UK. Okay, so let's crack on then and find out the detail. We're joined today by Callum Holland from the RPAS team. Callum, do you want to introduce yourself?

Callum Holland (CAA) 1:46

Sure. Thanks for having me. As you said, my name is Callum Holland. I'm a RPAS Policy Specialist within the Civil Aviation Authority. Background within RPAS for about 10 years, having founded a commercial drone company initially, went on to industry, worked in industry for several years and now lucky enough just from January this year to join the Civil Aviation Authority, as I mentioned, one of the policy specialists on the RPAS team.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 2:10

Great to have you. So I think it's probably worth doing a quick reminder to people about why we ran this consultation in the first place.

Callum Holland (CAA) 2:18

Yeah, sure. So the class marking class marking schemes. Those terms have been around for several years now. And they've caused a fair degree of confusion within the industry, some ambiguity, and I think most of all, some uncertainty. Fundamentally, what it is, is that the intention to develop a set of product standards that manufacturers can conform to, to add safety assurances to the platforms that are operated in the Open Category. Now there's lots of things that need to be done prior to us being able to roll out that type of solution. And we had a transitional date, a transitional period of two years. And we're very quickly coming up to those two years where the transitional and legacy provisions would have expired. And we, the UK CAA, we had concerns that some of the necessary things that needed to be put in place to facilitate class marked UAS perhaps weren't in place, and maybe wouldn't have been in place by the start of '23, primarily focusing around the establishment of a market surveillance authority, a conformity assessment bodies, and, of course, the creation and adoption of the relevant standards. This is all work that has to be done by Government, DfT and the CAA. So what we did, we wanted to get industry's opinion on what they thought about the transitional and legacy provisions. Bearing in mind, we have all of these concerns that some of the things we need to put in place for class marked UAS, wouldn't be in place by '23. That's primarily what the consultation was around. What did the community think about the transitional legacy provisions? And importantly, what did they think about the current expiry date of those provisions?

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 2:24

Because it was going to be the first of January '23. Right?

Callum Holland (CAA) 2:59


Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 3:00

And when we say industry, we mean, everybody. Everybody who's got a drone, uses a drone, is a registered operator, that kind of

Callum Holland (CAA) 4:03

Absolutely recreational, commercial, and then everybody in between.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 4:06

And so what were the proposals that we put forward? What were the options we put out in the consultation?

Callum Holland (CAA) 4:12

So we asked five questions in total. We were fairly specific with the first four questions. Now, the transitional categories, there's two, there's a legacy provision, and there's a transitional provision, and they're both slightly nuanced. They're not exactly the same thing. So what we were keen to really do was to gauge support for or against an extension to individually, both the legacy and the transitional provisions. So out of the four questions, the more statistical ones the 'yes', 'no', and 'how long' so as opposed to opinions, it's 'would you be in favor of extending each provision?', the legacy provision and the transitional provision? That was a 'yes' 'no', 'I don't know' or not answered. one

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 4:53


Callum Holland (CAA) 4:53

And if you were in favour of an extension to both the legacy and or transitional category, for how long. And the options there were 12, 24 months, longer than 24 months or not answered. And the responses were genuinely incredible. I personally was blown away by the sheer number of responses that we had in total four thousand five hundred and six responses. And I'll go through some of the percentages in terms of responses. So if we take the first question around extending the legacy category provisions, a total of 97%, if we round it up, because 97.98. So that's 98, 98%, were in favor of an extension. And within that 70%, were in favour of an extension longer than 24 months. And the second highest choice, there was 24%, with a in favour of a 24 months extension. So the overwhelming majority of responses were in favour, and the overwhelming majority in favour of an extension beyond 24 months. Moving on to the transitional category, almost the same 96.69%, were in favour of an extension for the transitional category provisions. 78% of those were in favour of an extension beyond 24 months, and then 16% in favour of an extension of 24 months. So again, similar to what we see in the legacy. And we can see where that came from. If you are in favour of one, the likelihood, kind of you're probably going to be in favour of the other. So what we can take from the answers of those first four questions, there is zero ambiguity in terms of what the community recreational and commercial want the overwhelming majority want an extension and the overwhelming majority want an extension of longer than 24 months. That's really clear. There's statistics, it's relatively black and white, as it were, what was really interesting, and what the CAA was really grateful for was the additional comments provided by respondents. So we asked the fifth question, and that fifth question was, do you want to add anything additional to your first four answers that you think we should be aware of? Because we know it's not as black and white as 'yes', 'no', 12, 24 longer than 24? We really want to understand the why. I think the really important thing to point out here is the why. And the responses in total, we received two thousand four hundred and eleven comments. So answers to the fifth question has shaped and morphed the CAA opinion.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 7:30

So that's what people want to know, isn't it? Have we listened? Have we acted on what people have said? And also, I guess all those comments helped us come to the decision that we made, as you say, as well as the actual raw data, you almost need the evidence to be able to act rather than someone just saying yes, no, don't you?

Callum Holland (CAA) 7:29

Absolutely that and one thing I want to make really clear, each of those responses were read, each individual response was read by a member of the RPAS team in the CAA. Not one was missed. Clearly, we had to group responses in order to sort of facilitate in the communication with the Department for Transport when we submitted our formal opinion, what we have done is broke them down into some common themes. And some of the themes that emerged, some of them are things that we in the team had thought about, especially around sort of economic impact. But there were things that perhaps myself haven't thought about. And it really, genuinely helped shaped our opinion, we obviously put out a consultation, because we had a broad level opinion that perhaps we're not quite ready for this to happen. And perhaps there should be an extension. And that's kind of where our opinion sat. As a direct result of the consultation and those two thousand four hundred and eleven comments. It's significantly moved our opinion and what we've submitted to the DfT, so those common themes, and perhaps some of the ones that I personally hadn't thought about before, is the environmental impact is one of them. If the transitional legacy category UAS provisions were allowed to expire, you're going to end up with a significant amount of e-waste potentially. And that's not something I personally thought about. But when you read that, in all of those consultation, comments, you have to step back and go, wow, yeah, you're absolutely right. That's a significant degree of e-waste, potentially.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA) 8:11

And that's because the the users couldn't carry on using that drone in the way they wanted.

Callum Holland (CAA) 8:19

Yeah, especially to those that perhaps don't have an operational authorisation and could operate in a specific category, those that are solely flying in the open category, they effectively didn't have an option at that point. The economic impact, you know that that's an obvious one. I think it's kind of the primary one that there is functional equipment out there that had the potential or has the potential from 1 January '23, to be perfectly functional, but not allowed to fly within the constraints of the transition and legacy provisions. And obviously, people spend a lot of money on these aircraft. They're not particularly cheap. So there's an economic impact there.

Another interesting one that came up was the market uncertainty. So as I have been for the past decade, very keen to be using and buying the latest drones and technology, that's part of the fun of it all. But with the uncertainty created around the legacy and transitional provisions on will they won't they be extended what's happening with it, people have held off purchasing new equipment, because they don't want to buy something that they thought might be for them redundant in six, nine months time.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

We've heard that a lot when we've attended events, it's kind of like, 'When are the drones coming out that I can buy that will have the markings?'

Callum Holland (CAA):


Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

And obviously, we don't know that. But there's that uncertainty. And people have been waiting haven't they?

Callum Holland (CAA):

Yeah, of course, and as a recreational operator now, I've felt that myself.

Safety, a significant percentage of people made a valid argument in the response that, well, if I'm operating in compliance with the open category regulations today, I'm not being involved in safety incidents or issues with my aircraft. So if they're safe today, surely they're safe tomorrow. Now, another thing that came up that I just want to clarify, before we get on to what I know people are here for, and that's to articulate what our opinion to the Department for Transport is, as a direct result of this consultation is just a bit of a clarification around the CAA's role. It was a common theme within responses that it's within the CAA's power to make this decision alone by ourselves. One of the things I want to be really clear on regulation and policy is amended through the Department for Transport by Government and ultimately, Parliament. So the Civil Aviation Authority's role here as subject matter experts is to propose an opinion, based on our own internal expertise, but also external stakeholders. The consultation we've just run is an example of that, and then propose that to the Department for Transport, and ultimately, it will be them alongside Government, alongside Parliament that will have the final say, on what happens to legislation. So I just wanted to make that sort of distinction very clear.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

So it's really important that people understand isn't it that what we're just about to say and what we will say in other places as to what our view is, that goes to Government. But until they actually make their final decision and publish that it is purely our recommendation at the moment, people need to wait and see what the Government say as to actually exactly what the future decision is.

Callum Holland (CAA):

Absolutely. And the hope is always that the Department of Transport take on board what the CAA have recommended our opinion, I think the really powerful message we have here now is that it's not just the opinion of the Civil Aviation Authority. It's the opinion of four and a half thousand recreational and commercial drone operators across the United Kingdom. And that's a really powerful message for us to backup our opinion.

So on to what I know everybody's waiting to hear is what is our opinion to the Department for Transport. And our opinion is that all provisions both transitional and legacy should be extended indefinitely, at least until the consumer can purchase class marked UAS on the open market. So the point here, we have this two year currently, this two year transitional phase, for us, the spirit of those two years was to allow the consumer time to make purchasing decisions. Now, because the consumer doesn't have an option to purchase a class mark us for all the reasons we've already talked about. We're not really within the spirit of what that transitional period was for. And because we don't know how long everything we said needs to be done before class, mark us come into force, we don't know how long those things are going to take. We think it'd be unfair to apply another arbitrary day, one year, two years, whatever it might, and we could be in the same position again, couldn't we? So we could say two years as was one of the original proposals. And then we could be doing all this again in a year and a half's time, exactly that one of the primary things that ca really wants to get right with this opinion is to try and clear up some of the uncertainty within the market has been caused by this.

So our opinion is there should be an indefinite extension. Now, at the point class mark UAS become available on the market, there should be consideration given for a reintroduction of a transitional period, but only at the Point class marked us are available, a new that's really to ensure that the regulated community has a suitable amount of time to naturally phase out, perhaps older UAS and that's kind of one of the big bits of feedback, where are my drones good today, if I buy another 1am, I gonna be able to use it in six months time. And our opinion is it shouldn't be done until the consumer has that option. So our opinion is indefinite extension. Once we've all gone away the Government Department for Transport the CAA and manufacturers too, and we're capable of delivering class marked UAS on the market there will be consideration given for a reintroduction of a transitional period, but not before. So the key takeaway I want to promote here is the investment uncertainty, the economic impact, the environmental impact, all of the concerns that people have raised throughout the consultation have directly fed into our opinion, and why we believe the only way forward is for a completely in defined period of time between now, but the transitional legacy provisions up until the point class marked UAS are available. And then we may look at introducing an additional transitional phase,

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

Which makes absolute sense. And for a lot of users, there is benefit in having a class mark drone as well, isn't that so ultimately, people will benefit as portion of users will benefit from the introduction anyway.

Callum Holland (CAA):

Yeah. And it's right to say within the consultation response that there were a significant percentage of respondents that were in favour of class marked UAS. What they weren't in favor of is everything I've just brought up the uncertainty, the economic impact the e-waste, because commercial and recreational drone pilots operating in the open category, they can broadly see the advantages of a class marking scheme and the permissions that come alongside take A2 category, for example, operating a C2 aircraft, so there is value in that there's also safety value in it too, in terms of some of the sort of potential technical specifications, but the regulated community, and I'm going to use this word loosely, shouldn't be 'punished' in terms of the uncertainty the E waste economic impact, when CAA, DfT, Government manufacturers are all getting our ducks in a row to get class marked UAS on the open market. So that's what it's all about.

Hopefully, if the Department for Transport, Government and Parliament share our opinion, what it will mean is, you don't have to worry about this, all of the concerns raised within the consultation are mitigated, continue flying, continue buying, and at the point you are able to purchase a class marked UAS, then you may see a reintroduction of a transitional period.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

So to just reinforce that then. So that is our view. It goes to government, people need to wait and see what government decide,

yeah, If they agree, then if you own a drone at the moment, or you're buying a drone in the very near future, you carry on as if you are now but at some point, when class marked drones have been available and are available to buy we're going to look again, probably at re-introducing a period of time before the class mark and the classifications come in.

Callum Holland (CAA):


Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

Well, I think based on what people have said, we've listened, we've acted, and people should, I think, hopefully welcome that clarity and it's what people wanted to see. One thing as well that we've seen in the past few weeks that we should probably touch on is bearing all that in mind of course, there's been stuff on social media and other places of drones or labels purporting to appear on drones. So I think it's just worth being very clear to people that until all of the work the Government and others need to do to introduce classifications introduce the overseeing authority, etc. there is no standard, there is no sticker if people see anything now, that's not real.

Callum Holland (CAA):

Yeah, absolutely. Clearly, we have a statutory duty around consumer protection, the CAA will make it very clear through communications at the point that class marked UAS are available on the UK market. An additional point, I want the community to be absolutely certain off is the European Union, EASA have pushed back, I believe, by 12 months the applicability of transitional UAS provisions, because they are in a similar position to us currently. So whether it's an EU approved class marked aircraft or a UK approved class marked aircraft, none of them exist. So if you do see drones being offered on the market online, with class markings on them, they're not essentially,

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

Yeah, it's an important thing for people to remember.


You're listening to the CAA Drone Safety podcast.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

So timescales wise, is there anything we can give to people? I guess to put it brutally we've done our bit and now we wait and see.

Callum Holland (CAA):

Yeah, absolutely. So you know, rightly so this is a substantive decision for the Department of Transport for Government and for Parliament to make. So we need to give them time to digest what it is we're telling them. It's a fairly significant departure from what is currently there. We would obviously like to see some movement as soon as possible in order to mitigate that uncertainty in the market. And that's one of the things that the CAA are really keen to mitigate is this uncertainty that currently exists. And obviously, as soon as we are able to, I'm sure we will release additional communications, stating the way forward and perhaps the path the Department for Transport and the Government have taken on the matter.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

Absolutely. Yeah, we'll be we'll be out there on all the usual channels telling everybody what the decision is. So a great response to the consultation. Thank you to everybody who did that. What next? What other consultations or upcoming work have we got for people just to be on the lookout for? solutely. Well, as I said at the start, we were absolutely blown away by not just the quantity but the quality of responses and that fifth question the additional comments field. And it's just really important to reiterate, I appreciate I've said it a couple of times, this consultation has shaped, changed the CAA's opinion on what we submit to the DFT. So the time you, the listener, to this podcast spent in providing us a consultation response, it made an impact, it genuinely made an impact. So coming up next, we've talked about this over the past couple of months, we know that we are about to release for consultation, a fairly substantive document. It's the UK Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material to the UAS implementing reg. thats about ninety pages that will be released for consultation over the coming weeks. So we're really keen, now everyone's kind of had a go, at this consultation to get straight back in and provide your views and feedback because again, it's going shape how we do things on the Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material. I'll forewarn you, it's going to take a little bit more time for you to do than the other one,

But worth it

Callum Holland (CAA):

Absolutely worth it, because it's going to directly impact the regulated community. So it's really important, this regulation, all the regulation we do the guidance material the Acceptable Means of Compliance is built for primarily, and to ensure safety, but it's there for the regulated community, we don't create rules for the sake of creating rules. It's there to build a safe environment that we can all operate and the industry can flourish in both recreation and commercial. So it does directly impact you. So we'd be really keen to get those responses in when it goes to consultation. And just like we did for this one, I'm sure we're going to release it on our social media, when it's up and live.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

We absolutely will. And I think if it's like other areas of aviation, actually, the acceptable Means of Compliance is more what people use day to day than the actual base regulation and the rules and the laws. So it's really important that people actually play a part and have a look at it, isn't it?

Callum Holland (CAA):

Absolutely. And I think this is potentially worth another podcast in itself. When we begin to talk about AMC.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

What are they? etc

Callum Holland (CAA):

And the guidance material because in the UK, we are very much as I was growing up with UAS regulation. You know, when I ran my company with the CAP722 series, everything was in there. Now we've transitioned regulatory frameworks to the implementing regulation, the delegated regulation, what we will have is an Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material where most of what we were traditionally used to seeing as CAP722 is now contained with the AMC and GM. So for those involved in manned aviation, a AMC, GM won't be a new concept. For those involved in our past for a lot of you, AMC, and GM will be a new concept. And obviously, we're going to release a fair amount of communication, clarification, documentation in order to guide you all through that process.

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

Thank you. So look out for that, everybody. We need your responses on that right as well please. A big thank you to Callum thank you for that.

Callum Holland (CAA):

Thanks for having me

Jonathan Nicholson (CAA):

No, thank you! And hopefully that's been news people wanted and we can take it on board. And as I say, just remember, as Callum said, wait for the Government decision. We do need that before we sort of formally agree this, but we will let people know when that's available. So thank you Callum and thank you everybody for listening. Remember, you can subscribe to our podcasts at all the usual places and if there's anything you'd like us to cover in future episodes, drop us a line the email address is dronepodcast@caa.co.uk Thank you very much and see you next time.

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About the Podcast

CAA Drone safety
Drone safety brings you the latest guidance from the UK Civil Aviation Authority with information for all types of drone operators, from hobbyists and enthusiasts to commercial operators.

You’ll hear interviews with experts from across the drone industry, along with details about rule changes and the different types of approval that may be needed.

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UK Civil Aviation Authority .

The UK's aviation regulator