From December 31, everyone who will fly a drone over 250 grams must have a European drone certificate. In the Netherlands, you cannot go anywhere for the required training. But it is already possible to obtain the A1 / A3 basic certificate via the Irish aviation authority IAA; free of charge. Dutch drone educators see the shortcut with sorrow and believe that an uneven playing field has emerged.
Drone educators discouraged by “Irish route” to free EU drone ticket
Starting point: basic knowledge for all drone pilots
For most drone pilots, the introduction of European regulations means that one must acquire some knowledge about flying safely with drones. Think of the most important basic rules, such as the maximum flying height of 120 meters, keeping away from crowds and airports, and other things, such as the future Cx CE labels for drones.
The goal is to ensure that no accidents will happen once drones become more widespread. Depending on your drone’s weight and the question of where you want to fly it, you will have to deal with one or two theoretical courses and exams: the basic A1 / A3 training, possibly supplemented with the additional A2 training. The only exception is for drones weighing less than 250 grams, which are exempt from the training obligation.
As soon as you start flying your drone, you will have to demonstrate that you have the relevant knowledge. This is done through a European certificate, also called the EU drone certificate. This comes in two “flavors”: the Proof of Completion (A1 / A3) and the Certificate of Competence (A2). The proof is personalized and includes the name of the drone pilot. Enforcers can address drone pilots in the future and ask for the certificate.
Government vs. market parties
At the moment, it is not yet possible to apply for a European drone certificate in the Netherlands, let alone that you can follow any training. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management has opted to leave the provision of training courses and conducting examinations to market parties, but they have not yet received the required recognition. The learning environments are ready, but no one can currently give students access to online learning environments, let alone take exams. Besides, the RDW is not yet able to issue drone certificates.
However, some European member states have opted to (partly) take control of the training, examination, and issuing of drone certificates. One of those countries is Ireland. A reader found out that it is already possible to follow the basic A1 / A3 training free of charge at the Irish aviation authority IAA, after which you can take the online exam. After successful completion, you can immediately download your drone certificate.
The “Irish Route” explained.
Of course, we tried it out ourselves, to obtain an EU drone certificate via the IAA. The procedure is relatively simple: you create an account at the MySRS portal, upload an identity document (this can also be a Dutch passport, verification takes one working day), enable the mandatory 2-factor account security, and then you can ‘Follow A1 / A3. Training in quotation marks as it is only a short video based on the EASA guidance material.
After you have watched the instruction video, you can start the exam. It concerns 40 multiple choice questions, of course in English, which deal with the different aspects of the EU drone rules (such as the mandatory registration, the different Cx classes of drones, and the categories you will be dealing with). It is no problem if you answer one or more questions incorrectly; you can tick new answers until you pass. You can then immediately download your drone certificate in the form of a PDF file.
The Irish EU drone certificate. (NB registration number and QR code have been adjusted)
It is impossible to obtain an A2 certificate via the Irish portal; for this the IAA refers to external training institutes. The situation does not differ from that in the Netherlands in this respect. As a Dutch citizen, you cannot register in Ireland as a drone pilot; you must register in the country where you live. As a Dutch resident, you must, in any case, register with the RDW from December 31.
Legal, but desirable?
The “Irish Route” is entirely legal. The European regulation states that you can follow your (basic) training in other member states. The fact that Ireland offers the basic A1 / A3 training free of charge is particularly frustrating for the Dutch market parties, who may see students running away via this shortcut. But there is another aspect, namely the substantive quality of the training.
Irish theory training is very brief. Apart from that, you will have to have a good command of the English language if you want to understand everything correctly. Moreover, during the exam, you can adjust incorrect answers until you have passed. The question is whether this teaches prospective drone pilots anything.
Another point of attention is the question of whether the RDW will immediately be able to process the Irish A1 / A3 drone certificate when you apply for a Dutch A2 certificate at a later stage. Because with that application, you have to demonstrate that you already have an A1 / A3 certificate, but what the procedure will look like if you arrive with a non-Dutch certificate is currently unclear. EASA has also not given a definite answer to the Member States.
At some time a European database will be set up to keep track of which body has provided which evidence, but it is not yet operational. (An interesting question is also what a Dutch enforcer should do if someone shows an Irish drone certificate, the QR code of which refers to the system of the Irish aviation authority. When asked, the police indicate that the systems will be linked in the future.)
Response from drone educators
We have asked four Dutch training institutions for a response. People are unanimously disappointed that a level playing field has not been created.
Vincent van Schijndel (DroneLand): “I am ahead of the competition, but in my view, it would have been fair to agree on a European level whether this would be done by commercial educators or by governments to prevent this inequality.”
Roel van der Wal (Drone Flight Academy) also believes that there is now an uneven playing field. “At the moment, Italy and Ireland have already started, while the Netherlands is sticking to 31-12-2020 as the start date. There is as yet no automatic link between the training institutions and the RDW, which means that it is currently not possible for Dutch trainers to train pilots from other countries.”
Parcival Hofland (Dutch Drone Academy) also wonders whether safety benefits from the “Irish route”. Hofland: “The question is whether the material is of any quality. Will it serve its purpose in creating an understanding of the risks associated with drones and contributing to a safe industry? In our case, we also offer additional knowledge in addition to the mandatory theory, so that students actually become better pilots.”
Sem van Geffen (Drone Class) emphasizes the aspect of quality and service. “Although it sounds tempting to get your paper for free abroad, you can seriously ask yourself whether you will be helped as well and quickly in that country, for example, if you have questions about the teaching material. This is sometimes forgotten, but a customer is only really satisfied when the customer service is perfect. So that’s what we focus on.”
All Dutch trainers indicate that they can come to them for a separate A2 route if they choose to do A1 / A3 abroad.
Our position is that flying drones carries a specific responsibility. This also includes a certain level of knowledge.
Wiebe de Jager: “It’s just like cheating during a school exam. You may pass, but you have learned little. Even though you can get a drone certificate for free and easily via Ireland, I still advise readers to familiarize themselves with the range of Dutch trainers. The theory training for your driver’s license was also not free, so it is not surprising to incur some costs for your drone theory if there is quality in return.”
“On the other hand, you can argue that for safety in general it does not hurt that as many people as possible come into contact with the new regulations in an accessible manner. “Even if you do not have to follow the A1 / A3 course immediately, for example, because you are flying a Mavic Mini, you could consider getting your drone certificate in Ireland: there is no harm in it.”
“Apart from that, the question is whether you will ultimately benefit from the free Irish drone certificate, especially if you will eventually fly in A2 with a drone that weighs more than 500 grams. “If you do choose the” Irish route “, realize that for the A2 training, you will end up with a Dutch trainer. Then you might as well go through the entire process in one go. Then the teaching material is also well attuned to each other.”
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