A Guide to Drone Regulations in Selected European Countries

There is no denying that Europe is one of the smallest continents in the world. It is also home to some of the most breathtaking and memorable sites in the world including the Alps, Stonehenge and the Eiffel Tower among other attractions.

It is no wonder then that Europe is one of the most popular destinations for American tourists with up to 12.6 million Americans visiting the continent in 2015. Countries such as Spain, France, and the United Kingdom are ranked among the top ten tourism ready economies in the world.

Given the increasing popularity of drones, it comes as no surprise that more travelers are carrying their unmanned systems with them. While some carry them to capture the scenes and sites, others carry them for other professional purposes such as business, research, aerial photography and even film shooting.

Drone regulations in Europe are different from those in the United States. It is therefore important for American travelers who intend to carry their robotic friends to Europe to understand the drone regulations in Europe before doing so. This guide is meant to highlight drone regulations in Europe including drone regulations in Europe with a focus on Continental Europe, Spain, the UK, and France.

(Source: Drone Rules)

Drone Regulations in Continental Europe

Currently, there is no single set of rules applicable in the EU. Ultimately, the drone regulatory environment in Europe is highly fragmented with individual countries having their rules and regulations. This makes it tricky for travelers intending on carrying their unmanned aircraft systems to move from one country to another ir Europe with their drones.

Luckily, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is currently in the process of developing a uniform set of rules and regulations that will apply for European Union member states. EASA aims at making drones a normal part of the European society by the year 2019. At the moment, however, EASA only has the mandate to regulate drones that weigh over 150 kg with individual states regulating those that weigh less than 150 kg.

In line with its goal for a uniform set of rules and regulations, EASA issued a proposed set of drone regulations in May 2017 which if implemented will apply for all EU member states. Most notably, the proposed regulations make a distinction between recreational use and professional use of drones. Recreational use is categorized under the open category while professional usage is covered under the specific category.

Drone operators under the open category are required to register themselves and their drones. However, those operating drones with a maximum take- off mass (MTOM) of less than 250 g have an exemption from registering themselves and their drones.

On the other hand, those operating drones with an MTOM of less than 900 g are required to register themselves but are exempted from registering their drones. In addition to that, drone operators under the open category are not allowed to fly over 120m above ground level. However, when flying over objects higher than that, they are allowed to fly 50m above the object’s height as long as they have permission from the owner.

In the proposed drone regulations, professional drone operators under the specific category are required to register themselves and their drones. They are also required to update their registration details every time they change in addition to displaying the information on the unmanned aircraft system.

According to the EASA proposal, there are no age restrictions for those operating drones with an MTOM of less than 250 g. The age restriction for operating drones weighing between 250 g and 900 g is 14 years while that of operating drones weighing more than 900 g is 16 years. People under 14 or 16 years can also operate drones under the supervision of a person within the proposed legal age limit.

Drone Regulations in Spain

Spain has a reputation for having very strict drone regulations guiding the operation of unmanned systems in the country’s airspace. The two authorities responsible for overseeing and regulating drone operations in Spain are the General Directorate of Civil Aviation of Spain (DGAC) and the Spanish Air Security Agency (AESA). The regulations make a distinction between the commercial (professional) use of drones and non-commercial (recreational) use of drones.

Drone Regulations in Spain

Professional drone operators must;

i. Have a pilot license from EASA or any other EASA approved agency. Alternatively, operators must have a certificate from a member state of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or an EASA approved training organization demonstrating that they have the required theoretical knowledge required to obtain any pilot license.

ii. Have attained the age of 18.

iii. Have a medical certificate (for both aircraft weighing over 25 kg and those weighing less than 25 kg.

iv. Have valid insurance

v. Have an up to date operations manual for the drone.

The recreational use of drones weighing up to 25 kg in Spain does not require AESA authorization. However, some restrictions apply to both recreational and professional drone operators.

i. Operators must fly drones within their visual range at a distance not exceeding 500 meters and at a height not exceeding 120 meters above ground level. Those flying outside their visual range must have an advanced certificate from an EASA approved training organization.

ii. Operators should not fly at night or in unclear conditions.

iii. Drone operators should not fly in urban areas and crowded areas. This includes beaches, concerts, parks, and demonstrations. Operators should also not fly over cathedrals, motorways or even stadiums.

iv. Operators must not fly next to airports, airfields or other protected areas. Operators should also make sure not to fly where manned flights are operating at low altitudes or in places where activities such as paragliding or parachuting are taking place.

v. Operators must have a certificate of airworthiness for their drones.

Spanish Authorities are quite active in reinforcing these regulations, and a breach of any of these restrictions could attract fines of up to €225,000. Since the rules came into place in 2015, the Spanish government has collected more than €2 million in fines alone.

Drone Regulations in the United Kingdom

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for drone regulation in the United Kingdom. Recreational use of drones in the UK does not require CAA approval unless the drone operators plan on flying next to people or buildings. In addition to that, recreational users with drones with an MOTM of between 20 kg and 150 kg are required to get CAA permission. Those using drones for commercial or professional purposes are also required to get CAA permission. Commercial drone operators are also required to have adequate insurance cover.

a) Regulations for Drones under 20 kg

i. Operators are prohibited from causing any object or animal that would endanger people or property from the drone whether or not it is attached to a parachute. This rule is also applicable to drones weighing over 20 kg.

ii. Drone operators must always fly within direct and unaided visual range.

iii. Drone operators must operate at distances not exceeding 500 meters from the operator and 400 meters above ground level. Flying beyond these distances requires CAA approval.

iv. Drone operators must ensure they fly in safe conditions. They must not endanger the safety of people or property.

b) Regulations for Drones Over 20 kg

i. Drone operators must obtain a certificate of airworthiness.

ii. Operators must have a permit to fly.

iii. Operators must have a licensed flight crew and follow the rules of the air.

c) Regulations for Drones with Cameras

i. Drone operators must not record images or collect data regarding other people without their consent. This is considered a breach of the Data Protection Act and the CCTC Code of Practice.

ii. Drone operators must not fly within 150 meters of or over a congested area or an open-air assembly of 1,000 or more people.

iii. Drone operators must not fly drones within 50 meters of any vehicle, structure, vessel or person not under the control of the operator.

iv. When landing or taking off, drone operators must not fly the unmanned systems within 30 meters of any person not under the operator’s control.

v. Drone operators can not fly drones over no-fly zones such as;

  • Restricted areas (prisons, nuclear power stations, government buildings, etc.)
  • Controlled airspace such as airports and airfields unless with explicit permission from air traffic control.
  • Prohibited areas such as flying over areas used for high-intensity radio transmissions.
  • Danger areas (military installations, pilot training locations, and even military equipment testing locations)
  • Areas that the Secretary of State has declared no-fly zones.

It is important to note that operators using drones that are not registered within the UK are prohibited from using their drones for aerial photography or purposes such as surveys unless they have approval from the Secretary of State. The CAA also forbids the operation of drones over locations such as Cardiff Castle, Stonehenge, Primrose Hill, Westminster Abbey and even Alton Towers among other locations.

Travelers should consult with the CAA to identify more no-fly zones in the UK. Foreigners who intend on using the drones for commercial purposes such as filming may also apply for temporary permission.

Drone Regulations in France

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) is the agency responsible for regulating drones in France. French regulations categorize drone use into 3; hobby and competition flying, flying for purposes of experimenting and testing and thirdly, flying for particular activities (including commercial activities). Although each of these categories has its regulations, some restrictions and requirements are common to all drones. These include;

Drone Regulations in France

i. Not to publish or broadcast aerial photos or videos of other people without their consent and not to use the data for any commercial purposes.

ii. Not flying over people or next to gatherings of people.

iii. To fly within the operator’s line of sight. Operators may fly outside their visual range if a second person is keeping the drone in view.

iv. Not flying beyond 150 meters above ground level or higher than 50 meters above any object that is more than 100 meters in height. Around active military training zones, operators are limited to flying at an altitude of 50 meters.

v. Not flying over the immediate vicinity of an airport or airfield and adhere to the altitude limits within zones surrounding airports and airfields.

vi. Not to fly within the vicinity of fires, accident zones or in the midst of other emergency services.

vii. Not to fly at night unless with a special authorization from a local prefect. However, hobby drones may fly at night as long as they are flying within the pre-authorized areas.

viii. Not to fly over prohibited areas such as military installations, nuclear power plants, historic monuments, hospitals, specific national parks and national reserves without prior approval from a relevant authority.

ix. Drone operators should ensure that insurance adequately covers them and any liabilities that could arise from the drone.

Drone operators should note that negligently or mistakenly flying a drone over a restricted area will attract a fine of €15,000 and a six-month jail sentence. On the other hand, operators who intentionally fly over prohibited areas will attract a fine of up to €45,000 and a prison term of 1 year.

The unauthorized use of photographic equipment while flying over a prohibited area will also attract a one-year jail sentence as well as a fine of up to €75,000.

In France, hobby drones are placed into two categories. Category “A” is comprised of drones that have no engine and weigh less than 25 kg. Also under this category are drones that use an electric engine that does not exceed 15-kilo watts.

Tethered drones that do not exceed 150 kg also fall under category “A.” Anyone can fly category “A” drones without any authorization from the DGAC as long as the operator flies the drone within the regulatory limits. Any drone that is not included under category “A” falls under category “B.” Those flying category “B” drones must obtain approval from the ministry that governs civil aviation.

Furthermore, only individuals listed on the authorization document can fly the drone. Approval is subject to the airworthiness of the drone and is valid indefinitely as long as the operator stays within the regulatory framework. However, authorized drone operators must send a statement every year confirming that the drone is still in compliance with the terms of authorization.

Drone regulations on the commercial use of drones in France are still under development. However, commercial drone operators describe the activity of which they are using the drone and must comply with safety regulations.

Operators must renew the declaration every two years although they should report any activity changes immediately. In addition to that, commercial drone operators must label their drones with their name and contract information. “Particular activity” drone operators also require a certificate of theoretical competence for flying unmanned systems.

Pilots of tethered aerostats have an exemption from this rule. Pilots of drones weighing more than 25 kg are also required to perform a demonstration flight before an agent of the DGAC before they can receive authorization for their “particular activity.”

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