Drone Course

What level of Certification Do I need?


This chapter offers guidance to industry on the level of certification required for each UAS type. Where no formal airworthiness certification is required guidance is given on the approach to take.


• The level of certification required for an aircraft or UAS is based upon the intended use.

• As described in Chapter 2 of this Section, at the highest level there are aircraft that have a Certificate of Airworthiness underpinned by Type Certification, continued and continuing airworthiness processes and design and production organization approvals. These aircraft are flown by rated and licensed pilots under the procedures of an approved operator and thus are capable for international operations under the mutual recognition arrangements from ICAO and the International Convention.

• At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have aircraft that are not required to hold any airworthiness approvals but can be operated commercially under cover of an operating permission provided they are suitably separated from third parties and property.

• Compliance with the most demanding requirements provides for a widest range of operational privileges, whereas a lack of demostrable airworthiness can still be accommodated – but with significant restrictions on the operations where appropriate.

• This approach is intended to provide a reasonable and proportionate level of regulation. This is based on the scale and level of risk each category of aircraft and its use could pose to both the general public and their property, whether on the ground or in an aircraft. The challenge therefore is to match the operational aspirations, and the risk this could pose, with proportionate airworthiness requirements that provide adequate management of this risk.

Aircraft Classification

• The current framework established and used by the CAA, and other NAAs, classifies aircraft based on simple discriminantes or type (e.g. balloon, fixed or rotary wing) and mass. This reflects the historic developments in manned aviation – but is not necessarily fully appropriate for UAS. However, until such time as alternative classification protocols are agreed this system is in place. Working within this means we have very simple categorizations.

• UA of mass greater than 150 kg fall within the remit of the EASA Basic Regulation, unless they are State aircraft or fall within exceptions. For these aircraft provided they are non-military, the CCA bases the applicable certification requirements, organization and operational approvals on those that would be applied by EASA as this provides maximum alignment and would offer potential operating benefits within Europe.

• Below 150kg the current assumption is that certification is a fully national process and hence, will automatically be considered for UK operational use only.

Aircraft between 20kg and 150kg

• For this class of aircraft, the approach taken is based on no formal airworthiness/certification of the aircraft, but an increasing degree of scrutiny of the aircraft design, construction techniques, operational safety management processes and Pilot competencies. This will need to be robustly documented in a Safety Case type report (i.e. UAS OSC).

• As such, the onus is placed on the operator to understand and describe not just the aircraft design and its capabilities, but also the potential failures of the aircraft and its control systems, the consequence and severity of these and how they are to be mitigated or managed for the operations to be undertaken.

• The intent remains that the more complex the aircraft and the more risk posed by the type of operation, the more robust and comprehensive the safety case will need to be.

• As such, whilst the requirements may not apply, it is recommended that the higher the mass, or the more complex and more capable the aircraft, the more an organization must refer to the airworthiness requirements that would apply to the next category or aircraft as this could provide useful information on the types of information to be addressed within the safety case.

Aircraft below 20kg

• For this class of aircraft, if conducting aerial work or operating close to third parties or property, the approach is that no airworthiness/certification of the aircraft is required provided that the pilot is capable to safety fly the aircraft, the type of operation can be undertaken within VLOS, within the defined areas of segregation (400ft altitude, 500m radius) and an operating permission is obtained from the CCA. In the same way as for UAS of 150kg and below, the UAS OSC approach is applied. For SUA with a mass of 7kg or less, a full OSC is not normally required for a “standard” permission to operate at least 50m clear of third parties.

• Where aircraft of less than 20kg are used purely for recreational purposes, away from third party people or property, the CAA does not impose any regulatory burden. However, whether conducting aerial work or operating for recreational purposes, it is always the responsibility of the pilot to ensure that the use of the aircraft does not pose a threat to any other person, properly or aircraft.

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