Did DJI just make a Huge Mistake with the DJI Mavic Air 2?

In this blog I am going to go into the nitty gritty of the new UK drone regulations which are going to come into force on the 1st of November 2020 (formerly the 1st of July but pushed back due to COVID-19). I think that the new Mavic Air 2 has dropped the ball in a major way in regards to these regulations and have missed an opportunity to be ahead of the curve.

If  you like flying drones mainly for recreational use but want to keep possibility open for using drones for commercial work this blog is aimed at you, If you are a professional pilot you are probably looking at completing your GVC so this blog is not aimed at you.

The EASA rules are based around 3 new categories; Certified, Specific and Open.

  • Open category – operations that present a low (or no) risk to third parties. Operations are conducted in accordance with basic and pre-defined characteristics and are not subject to any further authorisation requirements.
  • Specific category – operations that present a greater risk than that of the Open category. Operations will require an operational authorisation from the CAA.
  • Certified category – operations that present an equivalent risk to that of manned aviation.

The open category, which is for low risk situations, is the category which I will be looking into in a bit of detail. Within the Open category there are 3 sub categories which can be generally defined (with a few caveats) as:

  • A1 (fly ‘over’ people) – In a built-up area and close to or over people (in certain circumstances) with very low risk unmanned aircraft.
  • A2 (Fly ‘close to’ people) – In built-up areas and as close as 30m (horizontally) to uninvolved persons (or 5m in a special low speed mode).In addition, the remote pilot must have successfully completed an additional competency examination in order to operate in this subcategory.
  • A3 (Fly ‘far from’ people) – To be flown in areas that are clear of uninvolved persons. Only ever outside of built-up areas ( residential, commercial, industrial) and recreational / congested areas.

Drone Classifications

There is a full list on the regulations on what stipulates a class of drone and I am only going to skim the surface as I want to focus on the C1 class which is where the Mavic Air 2 could have gone if it was certified.

Class C0 – less than 250g (can be flown in all subcategories)

Class C1 – less than 900g (can be flown in all subcategories)

Class C2 – less than 4kg (can be flown in subcategory A2 or A3 subcategories)

Class C4 – less than 25kg (flown in subcategory A3 only)

Could the Mavic Air 2 have been Certified as a C1 Drone?  

My opinion after looking at the full list of what constitutes a C1 drone I believe that this drone could have went into the C1 class if DJI had the will to make a few tweaks and go through the certification process. I reached out to DJI technical support and they responded with the following:

The Mavic Air 2 is classified to C1. As we don’t have any writing material against this new CE standard, but actually, our user manual, official specs are all match the C1 classified. Thank you for your understanding.

I think they meant to say it IS NOT classified to C1, I will explain why this is the case below.

I will not go through every requirement (the full list can be found in the regulations) but I will endeavour to give you a feel for what makes a C1 drone and compare it to the current spec of the Mavic Air 2.

C1 Drone: Mavic Air 2
Shall have a Max Take Off Mass of less than 900 g 570g
Have a maximum speed in level flight of 19 m/s; 19 m/s (S Mode)

12 m/s (N Mode)

5 m/s (T Mode)

Have a maximum attainable height above the take-off point limited to 120 m or be equipped with a system that limits the height above the surface or above the take-off point to 120 m or to a value selectable by the remote pilot.

 

If the value is selectable, clear information about the height of the UA above the surface or take-off point during flight shall be provided to the remote pilot.

 

The value is selectable.

Be safely controllable with regards to stability, manoeuvrability and data link performance OcuSync 2.0

2.4 GHz/5.8 GHz Auto-Switching

Have the requisite mechanical strength, including any necessary safety factor, and, where appropriate, stability to withstand any stress to which it is subjected to during use without any breakage or deformation that might interfere with its safe flight;  

Should comply

be designed and constructed in such a way as to minimise injury to people during operation, sharp edges shall be avoided, unless technically unavoidable under good design and manufacturing practice. If equipped with propellers, it shall be designed in such a way as to limit any injury that may be inflicted by the propeller blades  

From what we know the Mavic Air 2 should easily comply

Provide the remote pilot with clear warning when the battery of the UA or its control station reaches a low level so that the remote pilot has sufficient time to safely land the UA; The 3500 mAh battery provides a max 34 min flight time and gives warnings of low battery
               

Have a unique physical serial number compliant with standard ANSI/CTA-2063 Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Serial Numbers

 

Does not have

A class C1 UAS bears the following class identification label on the UA Doesn’t have because its not certified
Ensures, in real time during the whole duration of the flight, the direct periodic broadcast from the UA using an open and documented transmission protocol, of various data, in a way that they can be received directly by existing mobile devices within the broadcasting range DJI’s has developed direct drone-to-phone remote ID using the Wi-Fi Aware protocol for mobile phones. The developed app and the associated drone firmware updates are not yet available for public use.

Because the Mavic Air 2 has not been certified as a C1 drone, After November it will be classed as an over 500g (but less than 2Kg) ‘legacy’ drone.  This means it will only be able to be flown in the A3 category (far from people) unless you obtain the A2 CofC qualification (costs about £250 at time of writing) which will allow you to fly it in the A2 category but limited to 50m from people so would be very difficult to conduct residential roof surveys with this. After the 1st of July 2022 you will only be able to use this drone in the A3 category.

So, it won’t become completely useless but the drone will certainly be less useable in two years’ time.  So if you get the Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo this will set you back £949 then the £250 for the training if you want to fly it in the A2 category and then you are faced with the prospect of only flying it in the A3 category after July 2022. Your only alternative after this date would to e to obtain even more qualifications or swap the drone with a certified one.

Summary

If you just want a Mavic Air 2 to fly solely in the A3 category (Fly ‘far from’ people) to capture those rural holiday snaps or landscape shots then this drone looks like an excellent buy. Personally, I use drones mainly to capture old abandoned buildings and landscape shots so this drone will still meet my needs.

However, If you are looking for it to fly in the A2 category the best you will get is two years before you will need to sell it for an alternative or complete additional qualifications to e able to legally fly this drone.

I will be carrying out a full review of the Mavic Air 2 once it arrives very soon but I thought this blog was still very worthwhile doing as i think there is a number of people that fall in between the hobbyist / commercial pilot who will be affected by these changes. Ultimately you will need to decide to either go for addiational qualifications or like me, purely fly your drone in the A3 category. Its a shame that DJI could not have just taken the time to put this drone through the certification process as this would have opened up loads of possibilities if it was a C1 certified drone.

I think we will start to see certified drones in the coming years before the 2022 cut off but for now we will need to make do with our ‘legacy’ drones.

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