Should the UK CAA Follow Europe and Classify the Mavic 3 under C1 Certification?

Mavic 3 Drone
September 30, 2022

The DJI Mavic 3 has been in the news a lot recently. The drones’ recent receipt of a C1 class certification under the European EASA drone regulations, making it the world’s first drone to receive this class rating, created quite a stir within the drone community. This was quickly followed by the release of the new Mavic 3 Enterprise drones, which presumably will also fall under this “Mavic 3 Series” C1 certification with potentially wide-reaching implications across the drone industry and beyond.

This is a huge win for DJI, who have pulled off an incredible feat in gaining a certification for the Mavic 3 Series, basically putting their new Enterprise drones in the hands of any member of the buying public without the need for any training or qualification.

While most in the drone community were expecting a C2 classification for drones in the weight class of the Mavic 3 series (and likely the Mavic 2 series if other legacy drones were allowed a retrospective certification), it was quite a surprise when the news was announced that TÜV Rheinland (a global testing and assessment service provider) had assessed that the drone complied with the requirements of the EASA C1 class certification, providing it has some updated firmware. *(see below)

So What Does the C1 Certification Mean?

Within the open category are three subcategories that have increasingly fewer requirements (with A1 having the most, and A3 having the least)

The new C1 certification allows the drone to be flown within the A1 subcategory of the Open Category, without any training or qualification of the operator. While drones in the A2 category require the operator to hold an A2CofC qualification, this is not required to operate C1 drones.

The subcategories are:

• A1: Flights over some people, but not over assemblies of people.
• A2: Flights close to people.
• A3: Flights far from people.

It’s easy to understand why DJI would be so keen to push for C1 classification for their Mavic 3 Series of drones, as any barriers to potential customers using their product will reduce its potential market. While the A2CofC is not a hugely arduous qualification to gain, training of any kind will inevitably put some people off as it costs money and takes time. For small drones such as the sub-250g Mini 3 Pro this makes complete sense, as it’s a very light aircraft with small propellors which will likely cause minimal damage if used incorrectly around people however the A1 subcategory allows flight “close to people”, with no “intentional” overflight.

Why Should the Mavic 3 Certification Be Concerning?

So, under the new regulations the restrictions have been lifted in such a way as that the Mavic 3 can now be flown close to people by individuals who have never flown a drone before. This seems a strange and potentially harmful decision.

For an approximately 1kg drone, with fairly substantial props spinning at 5000rpm, there seems to be at least a fair potential for harm if flown around people by a person who has no training or experience, regardless of the fact that a 1kg object falling from 400ft reaches a terminal velocity of approximately 50 mph which could do a fair bit of damage.

The priority of any responsible drone operator is to mitigate risk to ensure that every deployment is carried out as safely as possible. This requires evaluation and monitoring of both the drone, operator and operating environment and any operators working under a CAA Operational Authorisation will be required to maintain pilot records, maintenance records of the drone and batteries etc. Although operation under the A2CofC does not require this, the training does help build understanding of the importance of safety processes.

While training and qualification will not stop accidents happening, it does encourage responsible drone use which becomes increasingly important at a time when drones are becoming cheaper and more prolific. With more drones in the air being flown around people, by pilots with no training and experience, the risks will inevitably rise. I am sure this has been evaluated and judged to not be a problem prior to determining on the classification but it would be surprising if this does not result in a rise in drone-related incidents.

Impact of the Mavic 3 on the Industry

For the wider drone industry, the decision to allow very capable Enterprise drones to be operated without training or qualification is likely to have a noticeable impact in a range of sectors. While many drone operators will doubtless still make the decision to gain their A2CofC or General VLOS Certificate for their accreditation, and presumably many clients will require that their suppliers meet certain standards, there is no doubt that demand for drone training will suffer and therefore that area of the industry is bound to experience quite a fallout from this decision.

For drone service providers themselves, now that the barriers to entry have been reduced and drones with very high specifications for enterprise operations can be operated without any training or qualification, competition will doubtless increase and even a basic understanding of economics suggesting that market forces are going to push the costs of drone services down, having implications on the many smaller businesses currently providing drone services.

The prolific growth of the drone industry requires regular review and update of regulation to meet the demands of innovation and the ever-expanding possibilities afforded by drones and I have no doubt that safety is paramount in all considerations when decisions are made. It does, however, feel a little bit like we’re taking a step back into the Wild West of unregulated drone use by classifying the Mavic 3 as a C1 drone.

What is the Firmware Update the Mavic 3 Requires?

  • The new firmware update will make the following changes to the Mavic 3 to make it C1 compliant.
    • Meeting a new noise reduction level of 83db.
    • When the ActiveTrack Intelligent Flight Mode is used to film people or objects, the distance from the person/object will be limited to 50 m. Beyond 50 m, ActiveTrack will be disabled.
    • The Auxiliary LEDs will be turned on or off automatically during use, based on the actual environment.
    • The LEDs at the front arms of the drone will blink by default for the duration of the UAV being powered on.
blog author

Anthony Carter

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Our chief drone pilot shares insights on cutting-edge drone technology, industry developments, expert tips, and behind-the-scenes looks at our most exciting projects.

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