I have held a Permission to fly small Unmanned Aircraft issued by the CAA in the UK for at least five years, and operated commercially through my company Helter Skelter up until I moved to Spain last year. The question, post-Brexit, was how to go about gaining an EU Drone Licence. The Drone sat on the shelf while I tried to make sense of the Spanish regulations.
The good news is that I found a way to take the necessary exams, in English, that will give me licence to fly my drone in the Open Category (recreation and low risk commercial activity) and take photographs with it in any EU country for five years. This is way better than the UK situation which was expensive to renew annually and restricts your activities to the UK.
To fly in the EU, the CAA certificate is worthless. You have to take minimally, one exam to fly a drone in the Open Category.
EASA Open Category
Here’s a link to the EASA website where the categories are explained in English!
First let’s look at the Open Category. This covers recreation and low risk commercial activity and is split into three sub categories.
This is the basic certificate that will get you off the ground. If you’re a beginner, it’s the certificate you need to go and practice.
The syllabus covered by this certificate includes EU legislation, Safety, Operational Procedures, Knowledge of Drones, Insurance obligations and the GDPR.
Most of this syllabus would be familiar to anyone holding the CAA certificate, however the EU legislation part covers the classification of drones, the subcategories determined by weight and the restrictions applying to each category/subcategory. This bit is hard. You need to sit down and build a matrix to understand it and yes, it does come up in the exam. Twice!
The A2 Certificate allows you to fly in built-up areas, closer to people. If you’re planning to fly commercially you absolutely need this.
EU Certificate Provider
I searched high and low for a means of taking the training and doing the exam in English. Bad enough having to learn a whole new set of legislation, but my Spanish is nowhere near good enough to pass an exam.
Eventually I discovered Drone Class, an accredited organisation based in the Netherlands that offers online training and examination in English. The licence they issue is valid for the entire EU. You do have to register yourself as an operator in the EU country of residence and minimally, obtain third party insurance with drone cover for a minimum of €1m.
With Drone Class, the whole thing is a lot easier. The Online Tuition is well prepared, easy to follow and there are tests at the end of each module so that you can assess your own comprehension and retention. I would strongly advise making notes as there is a lot of information to take in.
Progress through all of the modules and take a mock exam at the end. As with all of the tests you can review the finished paper and see what you got wrong, with a view to revisiting the course materials and getting it right next time.
There is a lot of material and even though I’d been flying professionally for five years or more, I didn’t want to take anything for granted. I limited myself to two modules a day and made copious notes that I reviewed before doing the practice exams at the end of each module.
I took the mock exam once I was happy with my understanding and realised immediately that I was deficient around the legislation with regard to categories and restrictions. So I revisited that module and then sat the exam. 40 Questions with two hours allowed to complete. I got 93% so three wrong answers. The pass mark is 75%. After you’ve passed the exam, (there are unlimited resits within the 30 days of signing up for the course) you can apply for the certificate and you’re free to fly.
Is it possible to pass this course within 30 Days?
As a professional drone pilot I came to the course with an advantage. But it took me two weeks punctuated by a nasty bout of Covid to finish the A1-A3 element. That leaves me with two weeks to complete the A2 component.
My view is that if you have never studied the material before, then it is still possible to complete within thirty days. You’ll need some discipline to do it, but follow the method I’ve outlined above and you’ll be fine.
Update 30 June
I passed the A2 proctored exam this morning. What does proctored mean? Well, it’s like having a digital invigilator. Your web cam monitors your eyeline, and your keystrokes are analysed in software as is the content of your desktop. There are no books allowed, so this is a fairly demanding exam.
I struggled a little to get the software working on my Mac – it needed Firefox or Chrome to function so this was a little bit of a distraction.
Gaining an EU Drone licence seemed a lot harder for an English speaker until I discovered Drone Class. I would definitely recommend them as the training materials are excellent and even if you’re not an English speaker, they make the process painless.
This post is part of my “Business of Photography” series in which I discuss facets of the industry that are not directly related to actually taking pictures.
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