The result of years of lobbying by stakeholders, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency recently published a set of rules for flying drones in Europe, based on the European Union publishing the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/947 on May 24, 2019.
The European Commission adopted common EU-wide rules setting technical requirements for drones. They set features and capabilities that drones must have in order to be flown safely and, at the same time, help foster investment and innovation in this promising sector. The EU framework is based on national rules that were in place, and now provide a harmonized framework across the European Union.
1) Know your categories
The new regulations classify drones in three risk-based categories: Open, Specific and Certified. Criteria for weight, certification, operator qualification and operations determine in which category a drone is placed.
- The Open category is for most consumer drones and drones that don’t transport goods, for example those involved in photography, inspection and detection.
- The Specific category is for higher risk operations. A risk assessment and risk mitigation measures need to be put in place prior to operations.
- The Certified category is for high-risk operations, for example the transport of dangerous goods and people. The EU is still working on further defining the requirements for this category.
Within the three categories, subcategories are defined primarily on the basis of weight.
2) Certification needed
The CE Certification (used on all products in Europe) specifies specific criteria for open category drones, e.g. geofencing, noise levels and radio connectivity. All drones are required to have CE certification by 2023.
3) Drone registration
Each drone operator, be they a company or an individual, must register in a Europe-wide online system that can be accessed by authories in every member state.
Self-built drones that weigh less than 250 grams (just over half a pound) will be classified as toys, and will not need to be registered. There is no age limit for these toy drones; for every other category the minimum age will be 16.
4) Operator qualification
For drones between 250 and 900 grams (0.5 lbs – 2 lbs.), an online training course will need to be completed. For drones up to 4 kg. (9 lbs.), operators need to complete an additional theory course; a practical exam is also needed for drones up to 25 kg (55 lbs.). Certification remains valid for five years, and operators must display their licence number on each drone they fly.
5) Amateur and professional pilots treated the same
Drone operators in the Open Category will face the same requirements, whether they are professionals or amateurs.
6) Flying over people
Flying over or near people is allowed in certain circumstances and for certain categories. However, flying over large gatherings of people is still not allowed, ruling out the use of drones at festivals, etc.
7) No minimum distance
The current minimum distance restrictions in many European countries regarding airports, railroads, nature reserves etc. will no longer apply, as long as a minimum height of 120 meters (400 ft.) is maintained. This is cause for concern for many parties, including drinkwater basin operators.
Certain practical elements, such as how registration, certification and qualification will work, and what liability and insurance criteria will be, need further clarification.
For more details on the regulation, click here.