Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Key Changes for Drone Operators in Specific Category Starting January 1

On January 1, 2024, significant changes are set to take place for drone operators actively engaged (or aspiring to be) in the Specific category. These changes involve the introduction of Remote ID (Remote Identification) and, in some European countries, the option to declare Standard Scenarios (STS) developed by EASA. This article explains the implications of these changes.

Remote ID Mandatory

Starting January 1, 2024, all drones used in the Specific category must be equipped with a Remote ID system. This system acts as a type of flightradar for drones, allowing enforcers and citizens in the vicinity to capture Remote ID signals. Through an app, it becomes possible to identify the drone’s owner (operator number), track its route, and locate the pilot.

The latest drone models, including the DJI Inspire 3 and Mavic 3 Pro, already support Remote ID. Older models, such as the first generation Mavic 3, Mavic 3 Enterprise, and Matrice 30 Series, have received Remote ID functionality through a firmware update. In all these cases, operators only need to ensure that their operator number (including the last 3 letters!) is entered in the settings menu.

Remote ID Add-on

Are you flying a drone that lacks Remote ID support and likely won’t receive a firmware update, such as the DJI Inspire 2, Mavic 2 Enterprise, or Matrice 200 Series? You can still comply with the Remote ID requirement by installing a Remote ID add-on on the drone. This module broadcasts position data and the operator number via Bluetooth+Wifi. This is also known as direct or broadcast Remote ID.

An example of such a module is the DroneBeacon Db120 from the Dutch company BlueMark Innovations. This add-on operates entirely standalone and comes with its own battery and GNSS receiver. By configuring the module with your operator number, attaching it to a drone, and activating it during each flight, you easily meet the requirements for remote identification. There is also a built-in version: the DroneBeacon Db121pcb. Other Remote ID add-ons can be found on the EASA website.

Declaring EASA STS

If you are not yet active in the Specific category but aspire to be, it’s worth knowing that from January 1, 2024, you can use an EASA Standard Scenario (STS). To do this, fill out a declaration and send it to your national Civil Aviation Authority. Upon confirmation of a fully completed declaration, you can start flying as an operator immediately.

A standard scenario offers the most straightforward way to become active as an operator in the Specific category. However, be aware that you must be able to prove compliance with all operational requirements. This means you still need to work on an operational manual, keep logs, have the right insurance, and handle all other related aspects.

Two Variants

From January 1, in some EU member states, the following two STS can be declared with your national CAA:

STS-01: VLOS above a controlled ground surface in a populated area.
STS-02: BVLOS with airspace observers above a controlled ground surface in a sparsely populated area.

Keep in mind that the current EASA standard scenarios offer little added value. Especially the requirement for a controlled ground surface makes the STS very limited in usability. Additionally, additional procedures apply for operations in controlled airspace (CTR areas). And, importantly, STS-01 and STS-02 assume drones with a C5 and C6 label, which are not currently available (except for two exceptions).

In short: being able to declare an EASA STS is essentially a red herring. You can hardly escape a more complex application based on a PDRA or SORA if you want to operate meaningfully in the Specific category after January 1, 2024.

This article is brought to you by BlueMark Innovations BV, the producer of DroneBeacon RemoteID modules.

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch (available in Dutch and English). Wiebe is an experienced drone pilot (EASA Specific category certified) and has published a number of bestselling books about drone photography and cinematography.

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