Drone categories: What rules apply?

This blog is brought to you by Drone Class, your drone trainer for flying in the open and specific category.

Where you are allowed to fly, whether you need an EU Drone Licence and how much distance you need to maintain from people and buildings depends on the drone category you will be flying in. There are several drone categories. Which drone category you are allowed to fly in depends on the Cx-label and otherwise the weight of the drone. What rules apply in each drone category can be read in this blog.

Drone categories

1. Open category for drones
2. Drone subcategory A1
3. Drone subcategory A2
4. Drone subcategory A3
5. Specific category

Open category for drones

Most flights are conducted in the open category. The open category means you are allowed to drone fly in uncontrolled airspace. However, you often need an EU Drone Licence and registration number for drone flying in the open category. There are three subcategories in the open category: subcategory A1, subcategory A2, and subcategory A3. Which drone rules apply in the open category can be read in our blog Drone rules in 2023.

Drone subcategory A1

In subcategory A1, you may fly small, light drones up to 500 grams until 1 January 2024. From 1 January 2024, this will only apply to drones up to 250 grams. Heavier drones without a Cx-label will be in subcategory A3.

Drones up to 250 grams are allowed to fly above people, but not over crowds. You are allowed to fly over and above buildings. To fly these drones, you need to read through the drone's manual. If the drone has a camera, you must register yourself as the 'owner' of the drone.

Drones between 250 grams and 500 grams are not allowed to fly directly above people. However, there is no distance criteria to persons. You are allowed to fly over and above buildings. To fly a drone, without a Cx-label, between 250 grams and 500 grams, you need to hold the EU Drone Licence A1/A3. You follow an online training course and take an online exam.

Drone subcategory A2

In subcategory A2, you may fly drones between 500 grams and 2 kilo in 2023. You must maintain a distance of 50 metres from uninvolved people in this drone category. It is allowed to fly above and over buildings.

To fly in subcategory A2, the pilot must hold the EU Drone Licence A1/A3 + A2. As heavier drones may be flown over and above buildings, the additional certificate A2 is required. The pilot should also register himself as the 'owner' of the drone.

Drone subcategory A3

In subcategory A3, drones up to 25 kilograms may be flown. In subcategory A3, the pilot must maintain a minimum distance of 150 metres from buildings, people, industry and recreational areas.

To fly in subcategory A3, the pilot must hold the EU drone licence A1/A3. The pilot must also register himself as the 'owner' of the drone.

Do the drone categories change in 2024?

The categories are not changing, but... the transitional regime for drones will end from 1 January 2024. This means that drones without a Cx label from 250 grams onwards will then fall under subcategory A3. So when buying a new drone, it is wise to check whether the aircraft has or will get a Cx-label (C0, C1 or C2).

Below is an overview of the Cx-labels and in which category the aircraft falls:

Cx-label Subcategory Criteria Registration Certificate
C0 A1 Over people, not over crowds. Over buildings. Yes A1-A3 recommended
C1 A1 Not directly over people. Not over crowds. Over buildings. Yes A1-A3
C2* A2 Min. 30 metres distance from people, min. 5 metres distance in low speed mode. Over buildings. Yes A1-A3 and A2
C3/C4 A3 Min. 150 metres distance from residential, industrial and recreational areas. Yes A1-A3

* The C2 label also allows you to fly in subcategory A3, as long as you adhere to the restrictions that apply to subcategory A3.

Specific category

If you want to fly in, for example, a no-fly zone or exceed certain limits in the open category, you will end up in the specific category.

Drone flying in the EU? Get your EU Drone Licence

You often need an EU Drone Licence to fly a drone. You can obtain the EU drone licence easily and quickly online. You obtain the EU drone licence as follows:

  1. Follow an online training course explaining all drone rules
  2. Take an online exam
    (it can be started with us at any time and retaken for free)
  3. Once you have passed, you can apply for the official EU Drone Licence
    (issued by the RDW in the Netherlands; approved by EASA)

Questions about which EU Drone Licence you need for your drone? In which drone category you are allowed to fly? Feel free to contact us.

Sem van Geffen

Co-owner Drone Class B.V.

About the author

Sem is an experienced trainer/developer, with drones as his main interest. He holds the Dutch RPA-L license and the EASA STS theory certificate. His specialism is EU aviation law and he enjoys flying the DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise.

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